High hopes in Seville

Sevilla have embarked on a new era under Argentine Coach Jorge Sampaoli after the man who led them to three successive Europa League triumphs, Unai Emery, departed for a more lucrative role at Paris Saint-Germain over the summer. Their La Liga campaign has started off pretty well, with two wins and a draw from the opening three games after losses to both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the European Super Cup and Supercopa Espana respectively.

Tonight, their European campaign commences against Juventus, and it is quite fitting that Sampaoli’s first European match for Sevilla will take place where Emery won the first of his Europa League titles in the 2013-14 season – Juventus Stadium. That night saw the Andalusians rely on penalties to win the trophy after a 0-0 draw with Benfica, which is a result they would definitely be happy to take back to Sevilla tonight, even if their President Jose Castro claims “we’re only thinking about winning”.

A stalemate is unlikely to be on the cards, given the style of play that Sampaoli is propagating at Sanchez Pizjuan, and the next two finals that Sevilla won under Emery saw a lot of goals too. Firstly, there was the 2-3 victory over Dnipro, a thriller of a final that saw Carlos Bacca score a brace as a parting gift to his now former club. Last year saw another double from another player who went on to leave the club in Coke. The defender, who was playing as a right winger and scoring like a striker, helped Sevilla become the first team in 50 years to win three European competitions consecutively after a 1-3 victory over Liverpool.

The last two finals saw Emery’s team recover from going a goal down, and that fighting spirit is something that Sampaoli will also need from his players if he is going to even come close to matching his predecessor’s achievements. The 56-year-old has a very tough task on his hands – to simply retain a European title is an unbelievable achievement, but to win it three times in a row is absolutely ludicrous. Maybe four is a little bit too far, then.

Perhaps this is Sevilla’s time to progress further in the Champions League. After all, they haven’t actually been in the knockout stages of the competition since 2009-10, when they were knocked out by CSKA Moscow. Their group this time around seems favourable. Juventus should top it, but Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb should be disposed of, with all due respect.

After that, Sampaoli’s approach should help them out. We have already seen this season that they are capable of scoring goals, and if the defensive side of their game improves, which it should do given time, then they could go further in Europe’s elite club competition than they have done recently.

Then again, nobody thought that they would win three Europa Leagues in a row, so why not win four?