Assessing Sevilla’s struggles

After such a chastening defeat in Russia to Spartak Moscow, where do Sevilla go from here?

In the short term, they’ll need to dust themselves down quickly – they have a crunch clash in La Liga with high-flying Valencia on Saturday. With respect to their Champions League hopes, it’s not the end of the world. It was only matchday three and with no side taking decisive control of Group E, it’s still very much all to play for.

In the longer term, however, it raises some interesting points. Was this just a one-off freak result, or is it actually a stark reminder as to where Sevilla currently sit within the European elite? Eduardo Berizzo certainly thought the former was true.

He called the result ‘incredible’, with his post-match interview implying that the Andalusians were as much masters for their own downfall as their conquerors were. A credible, opening-night draw at Liverpool would certainly add weight to this argument.

However, after leaving Moscow with their tail firmly between their legs, some uncomfortable questions need to be asked. There was no warning that this result was on the horizon, so did they simply underestimate their opponents?

Prior to the game, Berizzo spoke of the need for his side to play ‘responsibly’. Playing in the Champions League is often very different to domestic football. A more patient approach is required, and it’s imperative to take your chances when required.

They did anything but, and after having controlled the game for large periods, a lack of cutting-edge saw them not only fail to sustain their advantage but also collapse, conceding four goals in the second half. That showed a naivety, which you cannot get away with in elite European football as it will be ruthlessly exposed, like Sevilla were.

There is also the issue of whether Berizzo knows his best XI yet. The former Celta Vigo boss vowed to ‘accept’ the criticism that would come his way if his selections did not achieve positive results. Of course, fate would have it that his decision to make seven changes for the trip to Russia yielded Sevilla’s heaviest-ever defeat in the Champions League.

The Andalusians have fielded a different team in every match this season, with Luis Muriel among those most regularly chopped and changed. The Colombia striker arrived from Sampdoria for a club-record fee of an initial €20m over the summer, yet he was dropped without explanation after his goal against Malaga. His replacement, Wissam Ben Yedder, fired blanks in the next two matches.

The unprecedented success of three consecutive Europa Leagues put Los Nervionenses on the map, but it also raised expectations amongst fans. Competing in the Champions League was the next logical step for the club, but after having to continually refresh their playing staff and with experienced Coaches leaving, as well as transfer expert Monchi over the summer, have they hit a glass ceiling with that incredible Europa League hat-trick?

Those successes should be the baseline from which Sevilla build on. For one of the oldest football clubs in Spain, it shouldn’t be enough to just be in the biggest competitions. The ultimate ambition should be to win them.

Looking to the future, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Berizzo’s side to look at the recent success enjoyed by Atletico Madrid and be aiming for something similar. Buoyed by their own European success, enhanced with some clever management, it acted as a springboard for Los Rojiblancos’ recent success.

Indeed, Atleti have proven that, domestically, the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid can be challenged. They are also among the favourites to win the Champions League each year, reaching two Finals in the last four seasons. It shows what can be done.

The good thing is that they’ll have the opportunity to put this result right. It’s exactly the kind of game a Coach demands a response from, and Berizzo is already talking about ‘revenge’. Every club is entitled to a freak result, but the challenge is to ensure this one bad result is just that – a freak occurrence – and put behind them so that they can move on quickly.