Sevilla could exploit vulnerable Barcelona and Real Madrid
You have to go back at least two decades to discover the last time La Liga looked like this. In an era where Barcelona and Real Madrid typically explode out of the traps and sweep aside all before them, it’s remarkable that every team in the division has lost one game by Matchday 6.
After Matchday 8, it’s not Barca or Madrid who top La Liga, but Sevilla, and their points total of 16 would only place them sixth in the Premier League. If this alone isn’t amazing, then take a moment to consider that Bournemouth would be topping Spain’s top flight with their current record.
If you’re a fan of omens, then you’ll love to hear that the last time Spain’s mega teams were dropping so many points, the title was won by Deportivo La Coruna. Super Depor, as they came to be known, claimed an unlikely title win in 2000. Here’s another omen: the last time Sevilla were top after eight games, they won the whole thing. Granted, that happened 72 years ago.
Superstitions aside, it’s clear that something is happening in Spanish football at the moment. So accustomed are we to Barca and Madrid winning everything that any dropped points come as a shock. The pair have thus far dropped 19 points (collectively drawing five and losing three) altogether, but it’s not the figure that’s surprising. What’s surprising is that a good chunk of those points was lost to Leganes, Athletic Bilbao, Girona, and Alaves.
It’s too early to claim this as terminal but Barca and Madrid do have issues. Barcelona’s so-called “Messi dependency” becomes more apparent as the star quality drains from their midfield and defence. Ivan Rakitic continues to produce stellar goals yet his exertions for Croatia at the World Cup have left him jaded.
Fellow workhorse Arturo Vidal is, at 31, no longer the relentless box-to-box midfielder he used to be. A midfield that’s become a touch too tired cannot provide adequate cover for the defence. This is evident in the increasing number of errors coming from the backline. Gerard Pique, especially, has a couple of high-profile goofs to his name.
For Madrid, the problem is at the other end. Selling Cristiano Ronaldo and failing to replace him was a questionable move to all but Florentino Perez. There were rumours of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe; an idea that only the very best would be enough to replace their talisman. Yet, when Madrid fans witness Karim Benzema fail to rediscover his striker’s instincts and Gareth Bale be subbed off with yet another injury, they can hardly be blamed for wondering just what is going on.
Time and investment may improve these issues, but for now, Barca and Madrid are the most vulnerable they’ve been in a long time.
Perhaps Sevilla topping the table isn’t so surprising, then. Their position is as much down to the decline of the big two than it is their own excellent play – of which there has been plenty in recent weeks.
Pablo Machin’s side were in poor form six weeks ago. If a goalless draw at home to Villarreal was acceptable, then the 1-0 defeat at Real Betis – inflicted on them by Joaquin, of all people – was not. Neither was the surprise 2-0 defeat at home to Getafe. After putting four past a hapless Rayo on Matchday 1, the goals suddenly dried up.
Machin’s refusal to start his best striker, Wissam Ben Yedder, was one reason for that. The Frenchman had lost his place to Andre Silva after the Portuguese’s debut hat-trick, but his poaching talents should never have been in doubt. After a brace in a 5-1 Europa League win over Standard Liege, he was given a chance against Levante and bagged himself a first-half hat-trick.
That wasn’t all Machin changed. Rather than compromise his attack by dropping a key creative player, he found a way to play all of them. Ever Banega was dropped into a six position, while Franco Vazquez was moved down in central midfield. Pablo Sarabia, who had been so effective as a wide attacking player, was moved into midfield as well. Sarabia would go on to score and record three assists in that 6-2 win over Levante.
This new 3-5-2, packed with as much flair, creativity and striking talent as possible, proved to be a winning formula. Sevilla used it to great effect against Real Madrid, with Silva and Ben Yedder sharing three goals between them. Silva was at it again in a 3-1 win over Eibar, before Ben Yedder scored another goal in a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo.
Silva and Ben Yedder share 12 goals between them in La Liga, nine of which have arrived while playing together. If they keep this up, they could launch Sevilla towards history.
Machin will remind anyone that there’s a long way to go. Indeed, Sevilla have several challenges ahead of them, the most pressing of which being a trip to Barcelona after the international break.
If they come out of that with a positive result, they’ll still have trips to Madrid, Valencia and Bilbao, cities they traditionally struggle in.
Then there’s the Europa League and the looming threat of the January transfer window. Who knows what’ll remain of Sevilla’s squad once that particular duo has had their way with them.
Nonetheless, these could be exciting times for La Liga. If there’s anyone out there who could exploit the vulnerabilities being displayed by Barca and Madrid, then it could be Sevilla. Spain is long due another underdog title winner.