El Centrocampista

Sevilla still dream but the Champions League charge is all but over

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Just when it looked as if Sevilla were about to mount an unlikely late charge towards the Champions League places, they came down to earth with a bump against the recently poor Athletic Club at San Mames. The 1-0 loss was no doubt a setback for Míchel’s side with chances of a top four finish this season now looking slim, however they are still within touching distance of the Europa League place currently occupied by Osasuna four points above them.

Given Athletic’s form this season in the league, struggling of late to replicate their fine Europa League displays,  the visitors will have been the more confident of the two sides coming into this game. What may have bewildered many Sevilla fans however, was the addition of Frédéric Kanouté in the starting line up. The former-Mali international, who has struggled with a hamstring injury this season, seemed an odd choice to partner Álvaro Negredo up front, especially considering Manu Del Moral has been in fine form when partnered with Negredo.

Marcelo Bielsea was obviously concerned about  the dangers posed by Sevilla and Athletic’s formation showed respect for their guests, who have been in fine attacking form in recent matches. Although they played 4-3-3, Ander Iturraspe dropped back into the back four when defending to give Athletic five at the back which ultimately nullified any threat from Sevilla.

Athletic should have gone in front in the first half when Fernando Llorente had an excellent chance but his effort hit the woodwork. To be fair to Llorente, the Spanish international was at full stretch and did well to guide his effort on target. As the San Mames faithful were bemoaning their side’s luck they were very nearly struck by a goal at the other end as Sevilla looked to capitalise on their host’s ineffectiveness. A mistake at the back let Álvaro Negredo through on goal, but his left footed shot went harmlessly wide and a great chance was spurned. Given his recent form, he really should have done a lot better.

Whatever Bielsa said to his players at half time seemed to have an effect as his side took the lead shortly after the break. Markel Susaeta’s pin point cross found the head of Fernando Llorente who headed home from close range. Although Llorente’s movement in the box was first class, some questions will have been asked about the Sevilla defending. Federico Fazio failed to stick to his marker and as a result Bilbao went in front.

Míchel’s side were hit with more problems as Kanouté was substituted due to a reoccurrence of his hamstring injury. The initial prognosis is that he will be out of action for five or six weeks ruling him out for most, if not all of Sevilla’s remaining fixtures. It must feel like déjà vu for the 34-year-old  who must be wondering when his luck with injuries will change.

Baba Diawara came on to try and impress and perhaps work his way into the starting line up for the remaining fixtures. But it was Athletic who looked the more likely to score and Susaeta had a glorious chance to make it 2-0 when he was through one on one with Palop but the veteran goalkeeper read the attacker’s mind and Susaeta’s chip was gathered with ease in the end. Sevilla had a couple of chances towards the end of the match to draw level but neither was taken. Sevilla had a total of 17 shots but only three were on target, a poor return for a side who can do much better.

Athletic will no doubt be pleased with their victory. In fairness the home side were the better of the two teams, they had the majority of possession and they looked the side more likely to score throughout the game. As for Sevilla, they face Real Zaragoza at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán on Thursday evening looking to get their campaign back on track. If they fail to take all three points from that game, then surely their Champions League dreams will  be over once and for all.

 




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