Two bad weeks may have hurt Sevilla’s entire season. A sudden drop in performance at a crucial time ruined the team’s hopes of succeeding in the Champions League and left it in difficult position to fight for the Spanish league title.
“A dream is gone,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said after a 2-0 loss to Leicester eliminated the team from the Champions League. “We are not playing the same as before because of me. I’m the coach.”
Sampaoli had led Sevilla to one of its best seasons in years, contending for the league title for the first time in nearly a decade and in position to establish itself as a major player in the Champions League for the first time in almost six decades.
But the team suddenly lost its poise and started stumbling, and Sampaoli was not able to get the team back on track quickly enough.
The first setback was a 1-1 draw at Alaves in the Spanish league last week, followed by a lackluster 1-1 home draw against relegation-threatened Leganes over the weekend. The results left Sevilla three points behind Barcelona and five points behind league leader Real Madrid, which has a game in hand.
Sevilla seemed to be in good position to finally thrive in the Champions League after it was drawn against a Leicester team that was struggling in the Premier League. The hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1958 only increased after a win at home in the first leg.
But nothing went Sevilla’s way in England.
Wes Morgan gave Leicester the lead and a goal by Marc Albrighton made it 2-0 a few moments after Sevilla defender Sergio Escudero barely missed a chance to even the match with a superb long-range shot that hit the crossbar.
Sevilla then went a man down when Samir Nasri was shown a second yellow card for head-butting an opponent, and the team missed a chance to send the game into extra time with about 10 minutes left when midfielder Steven N’Zonzi had a penalty kick saved by Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Sevilla had also missed a penalty in the first leg, when it was still playing well and could have built a much bigger lead.
“We were eliminated because we were not capable of scoring more goals in Sevilla,” said Sampaoli, who was sent off for complaining near the end of Tuesday’s match. “The two missed penalties hurt us. Football sometimes is decided by details and we were inferior in that aspect.”
A three-time defending champion in the Europa League, Sevilla won’t have much time to pick up the pieces from the loss to Leicester. Its next game is at Atletico Madrid on Sunday at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.
A good result is crucial for Sevilla if it wants to maintain third place and secure its return to the Champions League next season. It has a five-point lead over Atletico, which is quickly closing in from fourth place. Only the top three teams automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“We have to get up, work and prove this team deserves respect,” Sevilla midfielder Vicente Iborra said.