Are Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla ready to compete with the elite?

Lopetegui's Sevilla

Ahead of tonight’s crunch match in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund all seems to be going well at Sevilla FC. Currently sitting fourth in La Liga, the Andalusian side also have a healthy 2-0 advantage over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-finals ahead of the second leg on 3rd March. 

They even have a chance, with 16 matches left of the season, to finish in second place, potentially leapfrogging both Real Madrid and Barcelona. At the time of writing, they are one point behind the Catalans and four behind Los Blancos, although they have a game in hand over the latter.  

How have they become so formidable?

Sevilla’s record in recent seasons

As the below graphic demonstrates, the Andalusian club have consistently been challenging for the European spots in LaLiga since 2013/14. Like much of their recent history though, the period has been best defined by their cup heroics, with a remarkable four Europa League trophies won in seven seasons to take their overall haul in the competition to six. 

Sevilla under Julen Lopetegui

While we have grown accustomed to seeing Sevilla compete for European trophies, this has always been the Europa League rather than the Champions League where they have struggled to impose themselves. Their best UCL campaign saw them knock out Manchester United in 2017/18, before losing a quarter-final against Bayern Munich but they have fallen three times at the Round of 16 stage.

And tonight, Sevilla will face German opposition again in what is still a tasty looking matchup, despite Dortmund’s underwhelming league form. Indeed, the Black and Yellows find themselves in sixth place in the Bundesliga, 15 points behind leaders Bayern Munich having played a game more. 

In spite of this relatively poor form, the Spanish side will still have to be at their ruthless best.  They will be facing a talented squad which includes the likes of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus and, Lukasz Piszczek.

The tie will be a good test of just how far Sevilla have progressed under Julen Lopetegui. Perhaps 2021 will finally be the year in which they make that extra leap, both in terms of competing with the “big three” in LaLiga and transforming their Europa League domination into a serious challenge in Europe’s elite club competition. 

Julen Lopetegui’s success since taking over

Whilst overall, Sevilla have done well over the past seven seasons, current boss Julen Lopetegui has undoubtedly already taken the club to another level – certainly when compared to the reigns of his immediate predecessors.

The former Real Madrid and Spain coach has found his happy place and once again his concentration is on the game of football and not politics after taking over in the summer of 2019. 

Last season, his stewardship guided Sevilla to fourth place and a stunning Europa League Final victory over Inter Milan. 

This year, the Andalusians have won 14 games in la Liga, including their last five encounters. Whilst their 32 goals scored is not particularly high compared to other teams in the top six, their defensive record is exemplary. With 16 goals conceded, theirs is only bettered by Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. 

In order to understand how Lopetegui has turned this side into a consistently performing one, you only have to look through the team which now contains no obvious weak links.

Defensive solidity

Of course, Lopetegui has been aided by the typically outstanding recruitment of Director of Football Monchi.

The capture of Moroccan goalkeeper Bono from Girona was an inspired choice, as was Lopetegui’s tough decision to play him ahead of the Tomáš Vaclík, who despite fitness concerns hadn’t done a great deal wrong.

Centre-back Jules Koundé is another important part of the staunch defence, although how long they can keep the young Frenchman is another issue. 

Left-back was an area of contention this season as Sergi Reguilon (who had been on loan during the previous campaign) was signed by Tottenham Hotspur on a permanent deal, but Argentina international Marcos Acuna has filled the void seamlessly. 

A special mention must also go to club captain Jesús Navas who, at right-back, is one of the most consistent players in Spanish football and is playing as well as ever even at the age of 35.

Midfield depth

When Ever Banega left the club (for the second and presumably last time) in the summer, Sevilla fans were rightly apprehensive. 

The Argentine had been a key part of the club during both of his spells. However the signings of Óscar Rodríguez, and a return for Ivan Rakitic have bolstered their options in this area of the pitch in which they already had Oliver Torres, Joan Jordan and former Manchester City player Fernando.

An improved forward line

Lucas Ocampos hasn’t quite hit the heights of last season yet in 2020/21 but has still scored four and assisted four, while Youssef En-Nesyri has really stepped up to cement himself as Sevilla’s first choice striker with 17 in all competitions. 

Again, they have real depth in this area of the pitch, with Suso, Munir and Luuk de Jong having been joined in January by the exciting capture of Papu Gomez from Atalanta. While operating in a more advanced role, Gomez brings much of that creativity that was lost when his compatriot Ever Banega departed and he should help Sevilla bolster their goal tally.

Can Sevilla achieve their goals?

For success in football, especially in the Champions League, it helps if you have a good coach, brilliant individual players and a lot of depth to your squad. 

This season, Sevilla have all three in abundance. 

Under Lopetegui, they are defensively solid and do not lose many matches and they draw even less. The likes of Bono, Koundé, Jordan and En-Nesyri provide Sevilla with plenty of quality but in all positions of the pitch, Lopetegeui has ample options to choose from. 

The club are still fighting in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League and it’s clear that Julen Lopetegui is firmly steering the club in the right direction. Whether they are ready to truly compete with the European elite, we will soon find out.

About James Felton 6 Articles
Multimedia journalist from Swansea. Cardiff University trained. Lover of La Liga. About to embark on a 3 month internship teaching English in Seville. Fluent Spanish speaker.