The 2011-12 season was supposed to be the year that Sevilla got themselves back on track after three years of relative disappointment. However, it has begun in a similar fashion to the campaign just finished, and again raises questions of the team’s capacity to once more match ambition with performance.
Last term started with the Andalusians early elimination from the Champions League when Sporting Braga defeated them in the qualifying round. This season saw German side Hannover halt their progress to the Europa League group stage, and leave them without European football for the first time since 2003-04.
The summer started promisingly for the club as Marcelino Garcia Toral was instated at the helm and a sudden wave of optimism swept through the club as the new Coach tweaked his squad. Out went players such as Didier Zokora, Diego Capel, Sergio Sanchez, Renato and Alejandro Alfaro, whilst Piotr Trochowski, Manu del Moral, Emir Spahic and Jorge ‘Coke’ Andujar joined the club.
Despite the arrivals, the 3-2 aggregate loss to Hannover exposed several problems that the club failed to address over the summer. First, it showed how short on numbers they are in attack.
Freddie Kanoute and Alvaro Negredo remain at the club despite both being linked with moves at the beginning of the summer, but the Malian is really pushing towards the twilight of his career whilst his Spanish teammate is struggling to match his otherwise strong ability with consistency the team can rely on.
Indeed, Negredo managed 20 league goals last term, but during the 1-1 home draw with Hannover, he failed to find the net when his team, fans and Coach needed him most to. In one game he can score with an incredible chipped shot, whereas the next he can miss a sitter from nine yards. Crucially though, it remains an inconsistence Sevilla are still looking to rely upon, in spite of otherwise significant changes this summer.
Admittedly they look like they miss Luis Fabiano, a player that possessed very good pace and good ball control. His comfort in possession and ability to finish was matched with a centre-back domineering strength and providing a reguler option in the air. The player that seems to have been picked to take the Brazilian’s place in the squad is Manu, who joined from Getafe this summer. However, he lacks the ability to strike fear into his opponents and is nowhere near as clinical as the Sao Paulo hitman.
The main problem with the Kanoute-Negredo partnership is Kanoute. Recently voted the greatest player in the club’s history, Kanoute’s aging legs restrict what he can do. All too often in the past year he has found it difficult to get involved in both support-play and final-third play and has found himself increasingly dropping back into midfield, isolating Negredo in the process. Whilst possessing technical ability, Negredo’s lack of pace leaves Sevilla’s efforts to release him with a regular ball over the top prove ineffective for a player that flourishes on close on-pitch support.
The other issue with Sevilla that Thursday night’s disappointment highlighted has yet to be addressed, is their defence. New right-back Coke has looked promising in pre-season, but remains untested at the top level having spent his entire career in the Segunda Division or lower. Fernando Navarro meanwhile, is a fairly safe and steady left-back.
However, question marks surround the centre of defence. Versus Hannover, Julien Escude and Alexis Ruano formed arguably the most unconvincing defensive partnership since Aquivaldo Mosquera and David Prieto’s time together a few seasons ago. Every time the Germans attacked, they looked like scoring and both centre-backs looked incredibly uncomfortable.
For the season ahead, Federico Fazio, Martin Caceres and new-signing Spahic should all be ahead of Escude and Alexis. Frenchman Escude has never been quick, but looks slower and slower every week, whilst his Spanish teammate performances last season reflected that he is too error-prone to be regarded as a first-team player.
The lack of European football this year could work in favour of Sevilla, removing a late mid-week distraction from the League campaign, one that this year is the priority, with a top four place regularly spoken about. Undoubtedly, the Nervion club will have more competition for a European finish than any previous season with Malaga, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal and Valencia all credible candidates to take positions third to sixth after Real Madrid and Barcelona. Getafe, Espanyol, Real Sociedad and others will also be looking to upset the order. La Liga may require full concentration.
There is no doubt though, should Sevilla be struggling come January, key players will start to leave. The likes of Jesus Navas, Diego Perotti, Caceres and Negredo will attract bids that Jose Maria Del Nido will not be able to afford to turn down for much longer.