Fútbol Focus: Jorge Sampaoli's Sevilla are showing their title credentials

Robbie Dunne reports from Spain on why La Liga's title race isn't just about the usual suspects this year

BY Robbie Dunne 14:40 Tuesday 25 October 2016, 14:40 25 Oct 2016

Image: Darko Bandic AP/Press Association Images

Sevilla are genuine contenders for La Liga and have Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid chasing them after a hectic weekend.

This should not come as a surprise, given the fact that they have won three Europa League titles in a row. They have struggled in the league, however, despite their dominance on the continent.

They also signed up a man who helped Chile to their first and second ever Copa America titles - the closest they had come before were sporadic semi-final appearances, the most recent of which had been in 1987 - and a man with a penchant for the kind of football that can light up any competition.

That man is Jorge Sampaoli. The 56-year-old spent the first few months in his new job building a midfield and attack-heavy team that would be opened up against the bigger sides, and would struggle to break into the top four...or so we thought.

They would go on to struggle and entertain us in equal measure. All early evidence suggested that this was the case, especially when they conceded four against Espanyol, but won all three points by responding with six of their own goals (yes, you read it right, it was 6-4) on the first day of their La Liga campaign.

"Undoubtedly I am a person who is tremendously passionate about attacking," said Sampaoli upon his arrival by the banks of the Guadalquivir. "They will see me as a coach who will never attempt to cede the spotlight. And for that, we need a lot of spirit spread to the group of players so we try to make this team respected throughout Europe, as it is now."

Image: Darko Bandic AP/Press Association Images

Many believed that this attacking football he spoke of was all the Argentine had packed in his suitcase on his travels. However, after leaking four goals in that first game - and eight in the three Super Cup games against Real Madrid and Barcelona before that - Sampaoli showed off his ability to think pragmatically, conceding just two during a five-game unbeaten streak that included an impressive 0-0 draw with Juventus.

A 3-1 defeat over an emerging Athletic Bilbao would put paid to that run, but since that defeat they have won five games in a row in all competitions, and are displaying the type of balance that could very well see them compete for the domestic title.

In order to win La Liga, you have to be able to attack and score against teams who are willing to sit deep against you, but adapt and recoil when the heavy-hitters come to town. It was a lesson harshly learned by Atlético when their guerrilla approach in 2013-14 was neutralised the following year, finding themselves unable to break down teams who had come looking for draws.

Sevilla entered Sunday’s showdown against that Atlético Madrid side, and showed just how sensible a tactician Jorge Sampaoli can be, as well as how well the club have recruited in the summer. What was evident in abundance was that he won’t let opposing teams camp out in their half, for fear of being hit during the well-designed attacking phases of his gameplan. Sampaoli is winning over the doubters one step at a time.

Speaking after joining Sevilla in June, Sampaoli said: "The truth is, among a large number of offers that I received after finishing with Chile, the Sevilla one seduced me the most." In turn, he is now slowly but surely seducing the fans, many of the players in his squad and the larger footballing community with exuberant displays of attacking gusto tempered with a sensible approach to defending.

The most hotly-anticipated game in the Premier League so far this season took place between Liverpool and Manchester United on a Monday night, and provided enough boredom to last football fans who bothered to tune in to last a lifetime. In contrast to its English counterpart, La Liga provided three of the best games of the entire season that weekend. Barcelona overcame Valencia with a 3-2 victory at the Mestalla that had everything - a late, late comeback win, controversial goals and an incident at the end with a flying bottle of water that clocked Neymar on the head.

Athletic Club came from behind to draw level with Real Madrid on Sunday night, before Álvaro Morata put the home side up at the death in a drenched Santiago Bernabéu. There were no lack of talking points or action in this affair either as Liverpool target, Iñaki Williams, missed a one-on-one with the goalkeeper with the game hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, back in Andalusia, two of the best managers in the world faced off at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán on Sunday afternoon.

What followed was 90 minutes of positive, progressive football with Jorge Sampaoli coming out on top. La Liga might be inferior to the Premier League when it comes to marketing on a global scale, but if this weekend showed us anything, it is that it is that there is no lack of drama.

And there would be not better way to sell the message that anything can happen if Jorge Sampaoli wins the title in his first season in charge with Sevilla - who have not won it since 1945.

In a year in which teams from Portugal to Cleveland have finally broken their sporting duck, Sampaoli's side look more than capable of bringing long-awaited glory to Sevilla.


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