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Know Thine Enemy: Sevilla-Atlético Madrid Q&A with Chris Lail

We caught up with the Monchi’s Men blogger before Sunday’s Pizjuán partidazo.

Sevilla v Atletico de Madrid - Spanish Copa del Rey Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Into the Calderón: There aren’t ever many dull moments at Sevilla, are there? How would you summarize the season to this point?

Chris Lail: First of all, we lost our legendary Sporting Director, Monchi, to Roma at the end of last season which saw Oscar Arias promoted to the same position. Arias was thrust into a managerial search immediately with Jorge Sampaoli’s resignation, who left to coach the Argentinian National Team. Arias and Pepe Castro (Sevilla FC president) settled on another Argentinian manager, Eduardo Berrizo, to take the reins.

We lost several key players such as our captain Vicente Iborra, Adil Rami, Mariano and, most controversially, Vitolo to Atlético Madrid via Las Palmas. We brought in some familiar Éver Banega and club legend Jesús Navas returning. Other new arrivals included our record-breaking splash of cash on Nolito, Luis Muriel, Guido Pizzaro, Sébastien Corchia and Simon Kjaer.

It would get even weirder during the season. We successfully knocked off Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League playoff and survived the group stage after some wonderfully dramatic games against Liverpool. In league play Sevilla were disappointing with a 9-win, 6-loss, 2-draw record before the board decided to fire Berrizo, who had recently discovered he had prostate cancer. That decision was met with heavy criticism; however, the Sevilla board and the folks that paid attention to the style of play during the first part of the season knew that Berrizo wasn’t improving the team’s performance. He also benched one of our key players, Steven N’Zonzi, during that time.

In comes the Italian manager, Vincenzo Montella, formally of AC Milan. He immediately smoothed over the situation with N’Zonzi, who finds himself back in the starting XI immediately and no longer a transfer target. Montella’s Sevilla side has been a mixed bag so far. He’s gotten Sevilla into the Copa del Rey final after knocking out Atlético and Leganés. Sevilla also played well in the Champions League first leg against Manchester United. Those highs were met with incredibly depressing lows after losing to Real Betis at home 3-5 and then getting demolished 5-1 by Eibar.

It’s hard to say if he’s the right man for the job, but as of now, we are still in three competitions, in a qualification spot for Europa League next season and still have an outside shot of climbing to a Champion’s League spot. It will be interesting to see if our January additions (Roque Mesa, Sandro Ramírez, Miguel Layún and Guilherme Arana) can help achieve some more glory for our beloved team.

ItC: Are you confident of being a Champions League quarterfinalist for the first time after watching the first leg against Manchester United?

CL: What a game on Wednesday! The giants of the Premier League, Manchester United coming to the Ramon Sánchez Pizuán for the first time! I found myself screaming at my radio on my way to work that morning as the pundits were all saying it was going to be a cakewalk for Man U. Clearly, they haven’t paid attention to our home record in European competitions.

Sevilla FC v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Sevilla totally dominated the game and should have come away with a home goal. David de Gea was brilliant and single handedly saved embarrassment for Man U.

I don’t know if I am confident. I think we have a great chance! Sevilla never fear any team, but without getting that home goal, the pressure is on to get the away goal and avoid the chance of a penalty shootout. The pressure to create could open us up on the counter.

I wish we were playing the second leg at Ramon Sánchez Pizjuán, then I would be confident of our quarter-final debut!

ItC: Not much was expected from Vincenzo Montella after he controversially replaced Berizzo, but he has Sevilla playing their best ball of the season. What changes has he brought about?

CL: Montella has come in and provided some clear changes to the approach towards lineup selection. He has limited rotation — if I recall correctly, Berrizo didn’t use the same lineup once during his tenor.

Montella has a constant starting XI now and uses that every chance he can. That starting XI has players in surprising positions. He has moved Gabriel Mercado from fullback to center back and Navas to the fullback position. Both moves were because of injury to others (Kjaer in Mercado’s case and Corchia with Navas) and both players have thrived in their new positions.

Montella also restored N’Zonzi to that central pivot role with Banega instead of Pizzaro. He inserted Mudo Vasquez into the starting CAM role and prefers Muriel to our goal leader, Wissam Ben Yedder. He’s made lots of changes, but the most important so far was probably not pulling Sergio Rico out of goal after a couple of horrific performances. I think that move instilled confidence back into Rico and he has performed much better recently.

ItC: Should Vitolo play Sunday, what do you expect the reaction of sevillistas to be?

CL:‌ That’s up to Simeone. The RSP will be in full throat to tell Vitolo that they didn’t like how he left. This is his third trip back to the RSP since pulling the carpet in the summer and I don’t expect the reaction to be any different than the first two times.

ItC: Sevilla have already beaten Atlético twice this season. What do they have to do Sunday to make it a treble?

CL: I was so surprised with winning both games in the Copa. I think we can win again, but it really depends on Montella. Does he continue to go with the same lineup, or does he try to give some guys a rest with another Wednesday game coming up? I predict he will come with the same lineup as Wednesday’s Champions League game and rest some guys against Málaga on Wednesday.

ItC: Call it.

CL: If we go with the same lineup, keep track of Diego Costa in the box and can continue to frustrate Antoine Griezmann, I think we have a good chance to take the three points on Sunday. I can accurately predict Simeone will wear black on Sunday, but for the score I’ll go Sevilla 2-1.