Tuesday 20 February 2018

Opposition lowdown: Sevilla

It's been quite a wait since United topped our Champions League group back in December but the knockout stage is finally upon us. The Reds head to Andalucia on Wednesday for the first leg against Spanish side Sevilla in our first ever competitive meeting with Los Nervionenses. 

It will be a daunting assignment for Jose and the team against one of Europe's heavyweight powerhouses, so to ensure you're all fully clued up as to what's in store, let's take a look at the men from Nervion.

Formed in 1890, Sevilla are Spain's oldest club just dedicated merely to football, rather than being a multisports entity like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Based in the Andalucia region in the south of the country, they've won 13 major trophies as well as quartet of second-tier titles. However, they only have one La Liga success to their name, way back in 1946. After three seasons in the second tier at the end of the 1990s, the team found stability under Joaquin Caparros, who made them known as a physical, rugged side not to underestimated. His successor, former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos, created the side that became renowned across Europe as a mighty and prominent force to be reckoned with.

Despite their very impressive UEFA Cup/Europa League pedigree - including a run of three successive tournament wins in that competition under Unai Emery between 2014 and 2016 - this is only Sevilla's sixth Champions League season. The first two of those triumphs, in 2006 and 2007, were achieved by one of the most celebrated sides in the club's history, under the tutelage of Ramos with big name stars that included the likes of Dani Alves, Luis Fabiano and the late Antonio Puerta.  For the second successive campaign, having negotiated a difficult qualifying group, English opposition lie in wait in the first knockout round for Vincenzo Montella's men.  Sevilla memorably fought back from 3-0 down to earn a point at home to Liverpool on Matchday Five. They fell to Leicester City at the corresponding stage last time.This time around, though, their squad is stronger and watch out for midfield metronome Ever Banega, 14-goal top scorer Wissam Ben Yedder, club record signing Luis Muriel and string-puller in chief Steven N'Zonzi - formerly of Blackburn and Stoke. Much like Jose, Montella usually deploys a 4-2-3-1 system. Their two-legged Copa del Rey quarter-final win over Atletico Madrid showcased his tactical acumen, and Sevilla will have as much steel as silk.

This has been a season of transition and upheaval for the club - who ply their trade in the atmospheric and pictureseque surroundings of the 42,500 capacity Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Feted coach Jorge Sampaoli left in the summer to take up the reigns with his native Argentina. Replaced by compatriot Eduardo Berizzo, his pre-Christmas sacking looked a harsh one, and the club then appointed ex-Roma and Milan boss Montella for his first job outside of Italy. Currently in fifth place in La Liga, Sevilla sit six points adrift of the top four with 14 to play as they bid to return to Europe's elite for next season.

This will be a very tough examination of United's credentials as Sevilla become our 220th official opponents in a competitive tie.

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