FEATURE | Can Jorge Sampaoli turn things around at Sevilla?

After waiting the mandatory post-match thirty minutes for home fans to leave the ground, the travelling Sevilla support left Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Germany with a slight spring in their step. Perhaps they were still feeling the effects of a full day of pre-match drinking, or maybe they were believing that things at their club are starting to turn around. 

A change in attitude

Jorge Sampaoli has opened his second spell as Sevilla manager with two respectable 1-1 draws against an in-form Atheltic Club in La Liga at the weekend and away to Borussia Dortmund in the midweek Champions League fixture. Whilst both matches followed similar stories of positive energetic starts followed by a burnt-out ending, the Sevilla faithful have reason to be excited for what’s to come under the new manager. 

If there’s one thing that Sampaoli can offer this team, it’s a change in attitude. In both matches, Sevilla have come flying out of the blocks, scoring early on against Athletic and having two great chances in the opening eleven minutes against Dortmund before scoring in the 17th minute. The energy with which they have gone after their opponents in the opening phase of the match is alike to the energy that the Argentine coach transmits from his personality. He’s a manager that demands his players to leave it all out there on the pitch and ensures that no one is more important than any other and should therefore work equally hard. Perhaps these competitive skills have been lost in the latter stages of Lopetegui’s reign when the focus was too much on the football and not the other parts that contribute towards winning in a team sport. 

“Even Rakitic played well”

As ever when a new manager comes through the door, there will be players in the dressing room who feel they have a chance to prove themselves if they had fallen out of favour under the previous coach. We have already seen Sampaoli make a couple of changes to the starting eleven, but the introduction of Marcao at centre-back has made a significant difference to the feeling of security that the Sevilla fans have in their defence. The Brazilian is forming a partnership with Tanguy Nianzou that so far has not only been fruitful with solid positional defending, but a goal too. Frenchman Nianzou nodded in the opener on Tuesday night in Germany to score his first goal since joining the club in the summer transfer window.

That goal came from a free-kick that was whipped in by another player who is looking to turn his form around under his new South American coach. When asked about his opinion on Tuesday night’s game, a Sevilla fan who travelled to Germany told GSFN “the whole team played well, even (Ivan) Rakitic, who has been awful”. It was the Croat’s beautifully curled set piece that provided the assist for Sevilla’s goal, proving that he still has the ability to be a key part of this team. Being unfavoured of late, he played in his preferred midfield role alongside Nemanja Gudelj, who drops and protects the centre-backs, allowing Rakitic to roam free in the middle of the park being the creative spark that this team so desperately needs. It was he that two chances fell to early on in the encounter, the second one you could say was a golden opportunity. However, it was a good enough performance to show Jorge Sampoali that he deserves his place back as a regular starter.

Along with Rakitic’s free-kick, Sevilla also looked dangerous from corners, giving a chance for them to capitalise on being a team that can threaten from set pieces. An outswinging corner on 66 minutes by Marcos Acuña found the head of Nianzou once more. His nod down fell to the path of Lamela who was unable to convert a great chance to take the lead mid-way through the second half.

Something to improve

Whilst the emotional feeling may have changed around the club in this short space of time, it’s important to take note of what still needs to be addressed. As we saw at the weekend in the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, the Sevilla players seemed to struggle to carry through their energetic start throughout the game, looking fatigued and lethargic towards the end. Whilst Sampaoli insists that this isn’t a question of fitness, it’s evident that to play the way he wants, the team will need to be more robust as the game wears on. 

Another challenge the Argentine will face is just how he will fit all of Sevilla’s offensive-minded talent into a starting lineup. So far we have seen him put out a 4-2-3-1 formation against Athletic and a 3-4-2-1 in Dortmund. With these options, he will have to find a balance between using the central attacking players like Papu Gomez, Isco and Eric Lamela whilst also incorporating the wide players Suso and Adnan Januzaj. On Tuesday night we saw more of the central attacking players used with the width being provided by wing-backs Acuña and Jesus Navas. Centre forwards will also have to be thought about with neither Kasper Dolberg, Rafa Mir or Youssef En-Nesyri quite hitting their stride so far this season. If Sampaoli can find the perfect blend, you would think that Sevilla will have enough quality to start scoring goals once more. 

Rebuild or push for Europe?

Like with the arrival of any new manager, for Jorge Sampaoli to be successful he will need to be given time. Whilst still not having played even one quarter of the games in this La Liga season, there’s no reason to believe that Sevilla aren’t capable of finishing in a respectable league position come May next year. Additionally, the break that the World Cup will provide may allow some precious thinking space for Sampaoli and his coaching staff to mastermind a plan to see Sevilla rocket up the table when play resumes in late December. He will feel that he has unfinished business at this club – last time out he only managed one season before being snapped up by his national team to prepare them for the last World Cup. So with time, structure and support from the president, players and fans, Jorge Sampaoli will fancy his chances in turning things around at Sevilla Fútbol Club.

Oliver Cores

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