Not for the first time this season, Pablo Sarabia made a decisive impact off the bench to help Sevilla to victory away at Osasuna on Sunday. He came on with 25 minutes to play and the score tied at 2-2. By the time the final whistle blew, the score was 4-3 in Sevilla’s favour, with Sarabia having provided the assist for the go-ahead goal before scoring the fourth himself with a crisp and accurate finish from the edge of the area.
Sarabia has always had talent. He came up through the ranks at Real Madrid and was a member of the Spanish national team groups who won European titles at Under-19 and then Under-21 level in 2011 and 2013 respectively. But while teammates in those sides such as David de Gea, Koke and Thiago went on to establish themselves as successful players at big clubs, Sarabia struggled to put together a consistent run of form at humble Getafe.
The 24-year-old did, however, eventually find his feet last season, providing seven goals and six assists as Getafe fought an ultimately futile battle against relegation. His performances were, however, sufficient to attract the attention of Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi, who signed him up for a bargain price that ranged between €400,000 and €1,000,000 (depending on which report you believe) at the end of the campaign.
Evolution at Sevilla
Sarabia immediately felt at ease with the attacking approach of new Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli. After a good pre-season, he started in the pulsating 6-4 win at home to Espanyol in their league opener, providing a goal and two assists. He has not been a regular starter since but has nevertheless accumulated five goals and five assists for a direct contribution to a goal for every 89 minutes he has been on the pitch.
But perhaps more important that his outright numbers, impressive though they are, has been how significant those contributions have been to Sevilla picking up points. Sampaoli is a coach who isn’t slow to change things around if they aren’t working out, and Sarabia has regularly been his go-to guy when Sevilla have needed to mount a comeback.
Off the bench, his accurate shooting from range and high-quality deliveries into the area from both open play and set pieces have proved key to his side gaining points from drawn or losing positions.
At home to Las Palmas in September, Sevilla went from 0-1 down to 2-1 up in his 23 minutes on the pitch, with Sarabia scoring the equaliser from the penalty spot and then providing the right-wing corner delivery that Carlos Fernandez eventually bundled in for the stoppage-time winner. In October, away to Leganes, he entered the pitch for the final 18 minutes with the score at 2-2 and produced the winning goal with a delightful curled effort into the corner from outside the area.
And earlier this month at home to Real Madrid, Sarabia came on with just under a quarter of an hour left to play and the score set at 0-1. It was his devilish delivery into the near post that Sergio Ramos diverted into his own net for the equaliser on 85 minutes. With momentum and the crowd behind them, Sevilla then pushed forward and secured a stoppage-time winner through Stevan Jovetic.
Three against Las Palmas, two against Leganes, at least one against Real Madrid and two more against Osasuna on Sunday. In total, Sarabia has made key contributions to the accumulation of between eight and 10 extra points - the difference between being second, as Sevilla currently are, or instead down in sixth.
Those gained points have helped the club to their best-ever first half of a league season and currently, have them just one point behind leaders Real Madrid (who do still have a game in hand) at La Liga’s summit. Game by game, expectation is growing.
“The most important thing is the run of form,” Sarabia said after Sunday’s victory. “Today we have made history in the first half of the season, which I think has been pretty much flawless. We have to keep this going as long as possible.”
With a player of Sarabia’s quality to call on from the bench when times are hard, doing so will be just that little bit easier.