Almost inexplicably, Leicester City qualified comfortably for the knockout phase of the Champions League. As their European stock rose, domestically they plunged toward the abyss of relegation.
And they couldn’t have picked tougher opponents for the next leg of their European adventure.
Record-breakers in the Europa League, Sevilla has graduated to the big time this season, comfortably adjusting to life in the Champions League. The Andalucian side are third in La Liga; Jorge Sampaoli has the purring after inconsistency dogged the early part of their season.
Having beaten Real Madrid at home recently, there’s no fear in facing Leicester, dumped out of the FA Cup by Millwall at The New Den last weekend while Sevilla moved into second place in La Liga with a 2 – 0 victory over Eibar. That was temporary, and they returned to third after Barcelona despatched Leganes.
But the two clubs, who could not have enjoyed more contrasting fortunes this season, meet in Andalusia for the first of two legs that will decide who reaches the last eight of the Champions League.
Jorge Sampaoli had a lot to live up to when he took over from Unai Emery last summer. After a successful spell as Chile’s national team coach, the Argentinian’s first foray into European club management is going well.
So well that the 56-year-old is leading the list in the race to replace Luis Enrique should Barcelona dispense with their current coach’s services this summer. Los Blanquirrojos are on course to match their best La Liga finish this century with at least third place on the cards, equalling their 2006/07 and 2008/09 seasons. Any higher and they equal 1956/57 – sixty years ago – when they last finished runners-up in the top flight.
But it is in Europe where tangible progress has been made. Three consecutive Europa League titles – five in the past 11 seasons – is nothing to be sniffed at but reaching the last eight and beyond of the Champions League is a huge stride on the pitch. It raises their profile and more importantly, much-needed finances.
The Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium will be packed to the rafters with the Spaniards confident of qualifying, given Leicester’s domestic form. Their own form is consistent since returning from the winter break, with defeats at Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey and Espanyol the only blights.
Selling Kevin Gameiro last summer hasn’t had a negative impact on the team with Wissam Ben Yedder leading the scoring charts, along with healthy contributions from Vietto, Sarabia, Iborra and Vitolo. Reliance upon one man has passed; it genuinely is a team effort in front of goal.
While none of them are prolific, Sevilla are third top scorers in Spain behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, and with fourteen goalscorers this season, possess a goal threat from every part of the pitch.
The Champions League is about the only thing which has gone right for Leicester City this season. They lost the opening game of the season to Hull City and it’s got gradually worse from there, leaving Claudio Ranieri’s men 17th in the Premier League.
Just one point from safety, they face Liverpool and Arsenal in their next three league matches, sandwiching a six-pointer at home to Hull in a fortnight’s time. Their survival in the top flight is hanging by a thread, making their title win last season all the more remarkable.
Ranieri will restore most of his first team to the XI for this match. The much-changed side which lost at Millwall summed up the Foxes malaise. The Lions played the last twenty minutes with ten men and looked the better of the two sides. For Leicester, it was an afternoon of ‘what might have beens’ as a procession of chances were spurned.
Leicester have just two problems: they don’t score enough goals and they concede too many! This time last season, they had scored 48 and conceded 29; now it’s scored 24, conceded 43. The creative spark has gone and the absence of a hard-working defensive midfielder following N’Golo Kante’s departure, is biting hard.
Riyad Mahrez is rediscovering the form which saw him crowned Player of the Year but Jamie Vardy still struggles for goals. With just 5 this season, he is some way short of the 24 which shot the Foxes to the Premier League crown.
Sevilla will suit them more than Millwall, playing on the counter-attack and the Spaniards concede around a goal per game so there is hope for the English club. However, the warning of what might happen came in Porto when Leicester suffered one of the heaviest ever defeats by an English club in Europe.
Many expect Sevilla to do the same. While that seems unlikely, there will be no surprise if Sampaoli’s men build a tie-winning advantage in the first leg. A capitulation, as many fear may happen, would be the final ignominy of the season for Leicester.
FORM (Last six games)
Sevilla - WWLDWW
Leicester City - DLLWLL
- Leicester City has failed to score in 6 of their last 8 games in all competitions.
- Sevilla’s last three games has all featured .
- Before that, their previous 9 all featured >2.5 goals, with 6 containing >3.5 goals
- Leicester has never won a European leg against a Spanish team (D1, L3).
- Leicester has kept 1 clean sheet in their last 10 games
Recommended Champions League Betting Offer: Betting on Sevilla vs Leicester City? Claim this Sevilla vs Leicester City betting bonus from bet365!
CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
The two sides have never met in a competitive fixture.
Finding a compelling reason for a Sevilla win is easy; for Leicester, it’s very hard and that’s reflected in the odds for the match. At home, Sevilla are overwhelming favourites.
A win though, could be the injection of belief Leicester’s season needs but to achieve that, they will need to up the intensity of their group stages and at the moment that seems beyond them. The side which lost in Porto was weakened but a repeat of the five-goal drubbing is not out of the question.
Only Barcelona and Juventus have won in Sevilla this season, with Villarreal and Real Madrid escaping with draws. That level of opposition is several levels above Leicester and with the Foxes current form, they may be joining Arsenal in exiting the competition before the second leg is played.