Sergio Rico Suave saved the day at the last instant by stopping Gayà from point blank range to preserve a 2-1 advantage and three points for a mostly unrecognizable Sevilla.
Sevilla failed to convince throughout as they were immediately put on the back foot by a team who came into the RSP attempting to mimic their style of high press and rapid transition. Rami seemed most rattled by the inability to cleanly progress the ball from the backline to attack, as he played poor clearances and often gave his teammates more work to do than necessary. The team also misses Nasri, who consistently ducks back into the midfield to alleviate pressure and provide an outlet.
Going forward was also less than fruitful with El Mudo, Vietto, and Vitolo having relatively little connection to each other all day. Sarabia’s free kicks were not up to par, but he catalyzed almost every positive attack in the first 45′. Additionally, he played his ass off until the final whistle by winning a tough defensive battle with Nani deep into extra time when it looked like he’d been beaten to the touch line.
Kiyotake saw his first half of action since the middle of September. His first ten minutes were terrific: he provided the kind of triangulation and linkage the team had missed in the first half, and his ball over the top to Vitolo led to the first goal. After that initial period he tapered off a bit, but his positioning was solid even if his touch wasn’t always as crisp as he wanted in some moments. By the time Ben Yedder came in for Vietto the game had opened up quite a bit at 1-1. Vietto tried hard, no doubt, but the game was too stagnant for him. He plays best off his teammates, and isn’t the kind of player who creates goals out of nothing moments like Carlitos Bacca (who was very interestingly watching from the stands yesterday).
João Cancelo’s pass to Munir was phenomenal on Valencia’s tying goal. Even though it hurt to see it bump in off the post, as a fan of the game I had to enjoy the filtered diagonal and quality of Munir’s finish off the outside of his boot. Sevilla immediately pressed Valencia and seemed to regain the determination we’ve seen as a staple of this Sampaoli team. Pareja found the prize bounding off his left foot in almost identical fashion to his opener four days prior against Juve off another corner. Keep playing off the back on those corners, Nico!
The final 15 minutes saw us pack it in with little hope of trying to grab anything on the break given our tired legs and relative ineffectiveness all day. Ben Yedder did earn a few minutes of breathing room by holding the ball up well on the two occasions we earned possession late, but the hero would be Rico. He doesn’t play the best with his feet (although he bailed the team out of several complicated back passes), but the guy is damn good with his hands. He was strong to the punch on corners and stayed low on Gayà’s crucial final chance, using his positioning to be ready and reflexes to get a strong wrist to a ball rocketed toward the far corner. I like how it took him a few seconds to realize what that save meant, as if in the moment it was just another shot to parry. But then he roared.
It must be an awesome feeling. Usually after you make a huge, game-stopping save, you have to defend a corner or distribute the ball. Rarely is there time for much celebration, but in this instance it would have been worthy of running to the corner flag and ripping off his keeper jersey while dropping to slide in the crisp grass.
My takeaway is the team refused to let a bad day hold them down and fought until the very end to secure 2nd place for the night (pending Barcelona’s result). After a frustrating week it was good to see the character we’ve come to rely on from this team. The negative of the coin is that we remain disjointed through midfield and attack, but the positive is that other players found a way to lift the team when we needed them. Pareja and Rico should be the ones fans line up for outside the stadium this week.
A por Formentera!