Step aside, for now, Ajax (spring ’19), Atalanta (fall ’19, spring ’20) and Getafe (forever). The new team I’m all in on is the winner of last year’s Europa League: Sevilla.
With a solid coach in Julen Lopetegui, an extremely impressive Sporting Director (Monchi is essentially his club’s GM, to use the American version of his title) and a roster full of underrated players, I expect Sevilla to not only finish top-four in Spain again, but push for third – or possibly second – place. While I’m at it, are we sure first place — they’re currently +2,800 to win La Liga — is out of reach? I think so, for now.
Sevilla’s ’20-21 La Liga opener is Monday at promoted side Cádiz.
Can they upset, or even push, Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup?
Before their domestic season begins, Lopetegui and Co. have a massive opportunity to turn heads when they meet Bayern Munich on Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern in Budapest in the UEFA Super Cup.
Oddsmakers understandably like Bayern (-295) to cruise past Sevilla (+700). In Sevilla’s last high-profile clash with a bigger-name European brand, they stunned Inter Milan (Sevilla was +240 to win) in the Europa League final. It seems like that happened last week, but the exact date was August 21.
Can they do it again? I understand why they’re +700, and I’m not quite bold enough to tell anyone to bet against Bayern under any circumstances right now. I will say, though, that at that price, a flier might be worth considering.
Two reasons why:
- 1) Sevilla doesn’t have to keep a game scoreless to get a victory. Based on their play in La Liga last season (54 goals in 38 games), their critics rightfully wondered what would happen if the opponent scored first. They answered those concerns emphatically, beating Inter 3-2 despite giving up a goal in the 5th. They also knocked off Manchester United 2-1 in the UEL semis after going down 1-0 early.
- 2) Because Bayern Munich is due for a slip-up? Their rampage has to briefly cease at some point, doesn’t it? I’ll also throw out the super scientific “soccer can be fluky” here. Do I expect Sevilla to get an early goal and stifle Bayern the rest of the way? No. But stranger things have happened (looking at you, Atleti-Liverpool in last year’s UCL Round of 16).
The roster appears to have once again improved over the summer
Compared to last offseason, when a slew of personnel changes were made, the additions and subtractions over the last month or so were minimal. But this team will certainly feel the losses of Ever Banega and Sergio Reguilón, especially the latter.
Former Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic’s return to Sevilla got a ton of headlines. At 32, he’ll be a solid veteran presence, but probably not a difference-maker.
Based on Monchi’s recent history — he has signed a long list of little-known guys like Lucas Ocampos, who have quickly gone from unknown commodity to major contributor — the player who could really blossom for this team is Óscar Rodríguez. After two seasons as a Real Madrid loanee at Leganés, which was relegated last season, he could be a big boost after dramatically upgrading his supporting cast. After he piled up nine goals for a struggling team like Leganés at the age of 22, don’t be surprised if he lights up La Liga this season.
Another player to watch is recent signee Marcos Acuña. The replacement for Reguilón joins Sevilla from Portugal’s Sporting and has big shoes to fill.
How much noise can Sevilla make in La Liga?
A year ago, a solid back four – Reguilón, Diego Carlos, Jules Kounde and Jesús Navas – allowed just 34 goals in 38 La Liga games. Though less heralded than their counterparts at Real Madrid and Atleti, they were key to their team’s success. With all but Reguilón back, expect this group to once again be tough to crack.
The offense should improve in Ocampos’ second season with the club, especially if Rodríguez can integrate quickly. Luuk de Jong will be counted on to build on his outstanding effort (two goals on beautiful headers) in the Europa League final. And if Munir El Haddadi (25) and/or Youssef En-Nesyri (23) step forward, this team could very well have enough firepower to threaten Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atleti.
I say that partly because I respect Sevilla that much, but also because — as you may have heard — it’s anyone’s guess exactly what Barcelona and Atleti will look like. And although it’s early La Liga looks all the more wide open after Real Madrid’s opener. Los Blancos’ offensive woes from last season continued on Sunday vs. Real Sociedad, a 0-0 draw.