They were the team that finally ended Real Madrid’s 40 game unbeaten run, they’re just a point behind los Blancos in the table and nobody has won more games than them in La Liga this season. No, for once we’re not talking about Barcelona, we’re talking about Sevilla, a side coached by the man who might just be the next to take over at Camp Nou.
Jorge Sampaoli only joined Sevilla six months ago but already he has guided them to their best ever points total at the midway stage of the season while also progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League where they will face, and fancy knocking out, Premier League champions Leicester City.
Perfect for Barcelona
Sampaoli’s side play the sort of high-tempo, intense, attacking, possession based football that is demanded at Camp Nou.
He’s incredibly attack-minded, just look at his substitutions against Real Madrid. Franco Vázquez replaced by Stevan Jovetic, Vincent Iborra off for Pablo Sarabia, Vietto on for Ben Yedder. Sergio Ramos headed home Sarabia’s cross for the equaliser, before Jovetic popped up with the late winner. Job done.
The stats back it up too, Sevilla boast an average possession of 60% so far this season, only Barca themselves can better that with 66%. Incidentally, Real Madrid and Atletico are not even in the top three.
Neymar is reportedly a fan of Sampaoli, Lionel Messi too and the feeling is more than mutual. The 56-year-old has recently admitted he would love to work with the Argentina international.
“I would love to coach Messi and get to see him every day, from the side of the field. It’s a unique opportunity to see the best player of the world up close,” he told Goal. “Today Messi is in great shape. Who wouldn’t like to coach him?
“If you make a player like Messi happy you have 95 per cent of the game done. It’s like those days when [Diego] Maradona felt fine. It’s hard to lose when Leo is fine.”
Sampaoli ‘s instant impact at Sevilla has seen him touted for the Barca job and he’s even been asked about in an interview with Marca, although unsurprisingly he’s been quick to play down the speculation.
“It’s speculation, rumours. Luis Enrique is a winner, he is respected and loved by the fans there,” he said.
“If he leaves, there will an enormous list of candidates. It’s a long way away at the moment, although Sevilla’s good form means that people look at their coach. Nothing more.”
End of Enrique?
As for moving to Barcelona, well it’s entirely possible the coach’s seat could be vacant come the summer.
Luis Enrique’s future remains unclear, his contract expires at the end of the season and he is yet to confirm whether he plans to stay on.
The 46-year-old won the Champions League, and the Club World Cup in 2015 and league and cup doubles in his last two seasons but he has hinted that success has come at a price.
“I have no doubt that I’m at the best team, with the best club, with the best players, in my house and with my family, winning things and being very involved,” he told Barca TV.
“But there is also one thing about this job that is very hard, it costs me a lot and it’s a negative that I have to factor in when considering the next few seasons.”
First-team secretary Robert Fernandez, meanwhile, says the club will not pressure him into making a decision: “I want to give Luis Enrique a lot of peace,” he told RAC1. “I know him very well and he will decide when he’ll tell the president and me.”
If there’s one thing that will go down well with Barcelona, it is the ability to beat Real Madrid and Sevilla’s win just over a week ago, will not have gone unnoticed at Camp Nou. Nor will the type of football being played at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.
The system may baffle at times, but it’s working, Sevilla are genuine title challengers even if they are an intriguing 20/1 to win the title.
In fact should Sampaoli’s side maintain their current form, Barcelona face the prospect of finishing the season in third place, their lowest finish since 2008. That season cost Frank Rijkaard his job, a certain Pep Guardiola replacing him, could it also prove to be the end for Enrique?
Interestingly Sampaoli takes his side to the Bernabeu on the penultimate weekend of the season, a match which could well decide who wins the title, and quite possibly, one which might go a long way to deciding who will manage Barcelona next season too.
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