It’s hard to imagine the schedule working out any better, for narrative purposes, than Sevilla and Villarreal’s respective Liga ties last week and this: after a head-to-head matchup last week, they each face one of the big two this week. That they play these opponents the same weekend, the week after Sevilla closed the gap in the race for fourth to five, and even more immediately after each team managed to advance to the quarterfinals of the Europa League, and for that matter that these games will be immediately followed by the eerie silence of an international break, and finally that we are now in the final stretch of the season with nine games to go…it’s exactly the kind of coordination you’d never think the idiots in charge of La Liga could pull off. So it’s fitting that of course they didn’t, and instead that random chance has occasioned this scenario.
So anyway: the stakes are high. Also we’re playing Real Madrid, a team the average Sevillista probably hates more than Barcelona, but for whatever reason a team Sevilla has really struggled against in recent years, to a greater extent than against Barca. As if that weren’t enough, our heroes will be traveling to the Santiago Bernabéu; I don’t know if you’ve heard but Sevilla’s been struggling with away results lately. Oh and Banega picked up that annoying ejection last week, so he’ll be missing this weekend. I’ll leave it to someone else to do the math on how often we win games against Real Madrid, and how often we win games away, and how often we win without Banega, and how that figures into our probability of winning. I don’t have my slide ruler handy, so I’m just going to guess the odds are…long.
Having said that, though: Sevilla has duplicated the phenomenon we’ve seen in many recent years, struggling early in the season as new players (and departures) are integrated and absorbed into the squad, followed by a steady improvement until the team gels into one of the stronger sides in Europe as the season draws to a close. The Villarreal and Basel matches in the last week are two of the best performances the team has put together all year, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue in the finals months of this campaign.
I don’t think we’re going to win this game. More frustrating for me, I think Emery will field that annoyingly defensive stance he often brings to big games. If he does, hopefully this time that plan actually works. We can always hope!