Why Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid Could Be the Best Game in Europe This Weekend

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistOctober 22, 2016

Atletico and Sevilla face each other last season
Atletico and Sevilla face each other last seasonFrancisco Seco/Associated Press

Everyone will have a different opinion depending on what country they’re from or what team they support, but it is very hard to find a more attractive game in Europe this weekend than the one at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Sevilla have always had that air about them, of course.

They’ve always been an attractive, expansive team who provide the big guns with difficult games, but this season, there seems to be more of a bite to their bark.

New manager Jorge Sampaoli has installed the winning mentality that was previously seen in his Chile team—most notably at the 2015 Copa America—and his players have lapped it up.

Sevilla have been excellent this season
Sevilla have been excellent this seasonGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Plenty, such as the Manchester City loanee Samir Nasri and Luciano Vietto, who has joined on loan from Atletico Madrid, have arrived and seem to like what they’ll see as a stage upon which to perform their skills. Both players are hugely talented—as are plenty of others in the squad—and it is showing.

They are doing well in the Champions League, and this weekend, they enter battle in third place in the league table as the meat in a Real Madrid-Barcelona sandwich.

If we’re continuing with the food analogies, then opponents Atletico Madrid are the cream of the crop right now.

A fifth successive win and 11th game unbeaten came and went in the Champions League at Rostov in midweek, and it was noticeable just how the whole trip to Russia was handled.

Atletico were almost like assassins, an easy comparison to make given Diego Simeone’s regular demeanour.

They simply arrived, did their job and then quickly got out of there. From the moment that Yannick Ferreira Carrasco continued his fine form with a goal, their minds were almost immediately at this point. It was just a case of getting through the game, then getting on the plane.

Carrasco hit the winner at Rostov
Carrasco hit the winner at RostovKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

That’s three successive 1-0 wins in the Champions League now, so if you’ve only been looking at that competition, then you probably haven’t experienced the new, wild, free-scoring Atletico.

OK, that might be going a little too far, but the change in emphasis in La Liga has brought 21 goals in eight games, only one fewer than Real Madrid at this stage. Combine that with the fact that only three goals have been conceded and you’ve got a pretty effective team.

Last week’s 7-1 hammering of Granada, after going a goal down, was an example of this Atletico team being a bit different to previous vintages, of game plans being altered and accelerators pressed even when they don’t need to be.

It was, as we said here at the time, a "statement" performance and result that won’t have gone unnoticed by their two big title rivals, especially as both of them won convincingly but then found out that the attention was elsewhere.

And if Atletico were to record another win here, then that would be one of the biggest statements they could possibly make.

Simeone could make a huge impression at Sevilla
Simeone could make a huge impression at SevillaKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

That's because Sevilla have started brilliantly, and they aren’t ahead of Barca in the table for no reason. They’ve won their last four games in all competitions and are unbeaten at home in this campaign.

Sampaoli has tapped into the undoubted passion that has always existed within the serial Europa League winners, and a feelgood factor seems to be flowing through the club if last weekend is anything to go by, with the Daily Mail's Luke Augustus reporting that all of the club’s various teams—including youth and women’s sides—recorded victories at an aggregate score of 132-10.

It won’t quite be that entertaining on Sunday, but there is a convincing argument for this to be your game of the weekend.

From an Atleti point of view, the game represents a curious crossroads between their new and old identities.

When they went to Barcelona this season and earned a 1-1 draw, that was arguably the only time this season in which the "old" Atleti came out, as a tight defence and expert marshalling of Barca’s attacking talents earned them a point.

Kevin Gameiro returns to his old club
Kevin Gameiro returns to his old clubPIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/Getty Images

In pretty much every other game—bar those two early disappointments against Alaves and Leganes—they have been on the attack, seeking to win the ball high up the pitch and crucially getting more and more players into the box to get on the end of opportunities.

This is where Carrasco—who extended his contract on Friday—has come to excel, and he’ll again be a crucial player as Simeone surely restores ex-Sevilla man Kevin Gameiro to the attack to play alongside Griezmann.

How Gameiro fares is likely to be a storyline all of its own, but even though he hasn’t perhaps got the goals that he would have liked in his early months as an Atletico player, his influence in occupying central defenders has been vital.

It has allowed a little more freedom for Griezmann, who has notably dropped deeper, and helped Carrasco become one of the first names on the teamsheet.

With those surely starting—and Gabi and Koke probably operating in the centre of midfield—it’ll be interesting to see who gets the other position. If it is Angel Correa or Nico Gaitan, then Simeone could be looking to attack Sevilla from the start, but if it is Saul or even Tiago, then a little more caution will be exercised.

Given Sevilla’s recent record, then it is most likely to be the latter, but Atleti are playing so well lately that this doesn’t have to be viewed as such a negative move.

Indeed, it could just be that the increasing importance of Carrasco allows him to obtain more prominence in the side, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Juanfran raiding forward from right-back and the Belgian sneaking in at the far post—a common route to creating chances in recent weeks.

Carrasco will again be crucial at Sevilla
Carrasco will again be crucial at SevillaKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

Simeone will obviously be aware of Sevilla’s attacking prowess, in particular an impressive Nasri who seems to have found a new lease of life in a central position, but such is the Atleti manager’s confidence in his defence, he won’t be overly concerned.

Indeed, Vietto’s presence at Sevilla probably means that Simeone has watched an awful lot of them this season, and he’ll trust that his defenders know what to do.

It promises to be a fascinating clash, then, and one in which perhaps we’ll see caution abandoned as two sides who have flourished in different ways in recent years go head-to-head near the summit of the league table.

Plenty expect Sevilla to eventually fall away from the top four, but they’ll see this as the perfect chance to show that they intend to stick around.

For Atleti, it is just another challenge, albeit a very difficult one.

Prizes won’t be handed out for victories nor will defeat sting too hard for too long, but there is a chance to lay down a marker here.

And every successful season has several of those.

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