There’s more than a touch of déjà vu about Sevilla’s 2023/24 season. Fans of Los Nervionenses must feel like they are trapped in the same nightmare they lived for most of the last campaign.
The parallels with their 2022/23 season are certainly not hard to find.
A slow start led to what felt like the inevitable sacking of a Europa League winning coach. A replacement who failed to impose his own style of play on a misfiring team that slid into the depths of an unexpected relegation battle. A sense that all is not quite right behind the scenes and attempts to do business in January to salvage what already feels like a serious situation.
It wasn’t until March of last year that Sevilla appointed José Luis Mendilibar, the man who would ultimately save their season with might be described as a “back to basics” approach. It hasn’t taken as long for them to move onto boss number three this term.
However, with the exception of an opening victory over fellow strugglers Granada, the early signs are that Quique Sanchez Flores may not have a magic formula to transform their fortunes.
There will certainly be no European miracle this time. Having finished bottom of their Champions League group, there are no famous Europa League nights at the Sanchez-Pizjuan to look forward to. With only 16 points on the board, one game past the midway point in the season, the only serious goal now can be survival.
Genuine relegation candidates this term?
Sevilla are five points worse off than they were at the corresponding point last season.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that their seventh Europa League triumph, achieved against all odds in extraordinary fashion at the end of last season, did little more than mask some of the more fundamental problems at a club that was once considered a model for sensible planning and smart recruitment.
The regular coaching changes and ever increasing percentage of Sevilla signings that miss rather than hit, suggest that’s no longer the case.
While it’s true that this is still a squad that in theory should be “too good to go down”, there is little sign of the kind of run that saw them win six of Mendilibar’s first eight league games last spring developing.
Sanchez Flores has lost all three league games since winning his opening match against Granada 3-0, a result that perhaps said as much about the quality of the opposition that night as it did his own team.
A 3-2 home defeat against fellow strugglers Alaves on Friday night really set the alarm bells ringing.
“We are in a defensive rebuild. The lack of structure in our attack is mirrored in our defence” claimed the Sevilla boss this week ahead of a Copa del Rey trip to his former club Getafe.
“Completely changing everything is very difficult. There are mistakes that we keep making and we have to work on them.
“I watched the league match against Getafe” he continued in reference to the 3-0 home defeat in the final game of predecessor Diego Alonso’s miserable spell in charge.
“We identified similar patterns to what we are trying to fix. It’s a matter of awareness and organisation. We have to work on it and adapt 100%. Football doesn’t allow those mistakes.”
His comments are indicative of the need to make improvements in all departments and a sense that this rescue mission isn’t going to be as straightforward.
Sevilla already active in January
After a poor summer in the transfer market, Sevilla salvaged things somewhat with some smart January recruitment last season. The loan addition of Loic Bade proved the catalyst for improving their defence while Pape Gueye and Bryan Gil also arrived on temporary deals with Lucas Ocampos returning from a short-lived stint at Ajax.
Twelve months on and it’s already clear that they are hoping to do something similar this term, only it’s now former Leeds sporting director Victor Orta who is overseeing recruitment, with Monchi having moved to Aston Villa in the summer.
Veteran midfielder Fernando has been released from his contract in the only departure to date, but more could follow with striker Rafa Mir currently being linked with a move to Valencia.
That should help to free up further funds, but there have already been three new faces arrive at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan this month, although 18 year old Belgian youth international Stanis Idumbo Muzambo is expected to initially join up with the reserve team having signed a four and a half year deal.
20 year old Hannibal Mejbri has completed his move to Sevilla in the past few days but isn’t that much more experienced. The Manchester United loanee has Premier League, Champions League and even World Cup minutes under his belt, just not very many of them.
The Tunisian is a fresh midfield option for Sanchez Flores, as is 21 year old Lucien Agoume who has arrived on loan from Inter Milan.
A defining year on and off the pitch?
The deals for both Hannibal Mejbri and Lucien Agoume include options to buy and may be early indicators of Orta’s desire to revamp what is an ageing squad with ten players having already turned 30 and three more who will do later in 2024.
Between them, the two new boys have clocked up just 134 minutes of league football this season. These don’t feel like ready-made players who can come in and transform Sevilla’s fortunes from the off, but both should bring the energy and exuberance of youth which is something that should help give this team a bit of a boost, even if it’s only from the substitutes’ bench.
2024 already feels like it may be something of a defining year of change for Sevilla. There is already a new president with Jose Maria del Nido Carrasco taking over on New Year’s Eve after a bitter father-son boardroom dispute.
With a Sporting Director also relatively new in the job and with big boots to fill given Monchi has been responsible for so many of the good things about Sevilla FC since the turn of the century, this is now very much a new era off the pitch at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
The decisions made in 2024 may go a long way to determining whether the club can continue to be a genuine force in Spanish and European football.
Talk of that can be put on hold for now though. Barring an absolute miracle, European qualification will elude them for the first time in more than a decade with merely ensuring top flight survival the most immediate and most pressing priority.
As poor as Sevilla have been this season, they can at least take solace from the knowledge that there have been three worse teams with Almeria, Granada and Cadiz beneath them in the table which currently has an all-Andalusian bottom four in a very bad year for clubs from the South.
Sevilla should stay up, but at best they are heading for back-to-back bottom half finishes in LaLiga, following 21 straight years in the top ten. They head into this new dawn with as much a sense of trepidation as they do optimism.