As the saying goes, teams that fail to take their chances at this level tend to get punished. Ahead of Sevilla’s round of 16 decider against Leicester, it is a line which may be haunting the Spanish side’s fans.
Still in touch at the top of the Spanish Liga, the Rojiblancos visit the English champions holding a 2-1 lead – but, by their own admission, they have laboured recently.
As their ever-frank coach Jorge Sampaoli put it this weekend: “Playing like this will make it very difficult to reach the quarter-finals. We have to improve because we’ve lost momentum.”
His comments followed an accumulation of tight matches since that unnecessarily narrow victory in Claudio Ranieri’s last match in charge of Leicester. Each time, the Argentinian’s team have scored fewer goals than they merited, following up narrow wins against Athletic Club and Real Betis with 1-1 draws against Alavés and Leganés.
Sampaoli has tried to resolve the problem by confronting it publicly. He has talked about the need to recover various key players who have been rotated – for which you can read rested – in the last couple of weeks.
Vitolo, Franco Vázquez, Samir Nasri, Sergio Escudero, Wissam Ben Yedder and Steven N’Zonzi have all had time off for a variety of reasons, yet all are in firm contention to play in Leicester.
However, there is another clear factor: Sevilla simply need to regain the personality that made them UEFA Europa League winners in the last three seasons.
The Andalusian outfit made history thanks to their strength on the road, losing just three of their 15 away games from the round of 32 onwards over the three campaigns – finals included. If they can replicate that robustness in England and either draw or win, they will be through. However, with the Foxes resurgent, it may not be an easy task.
“We just need to stay calm,” is the opinion of goalkeeper Sergio Rico. “We have to keep our feet on the ground as well: Tuesday is a massively important game, and it’s hard work, common sense and giving everything which has brought us this far.”
January loan signing Stevan Jovetić sees the situation identically: “It’s a crucial match and it’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to raise our game to get out of this situation.”
As situations go, it is not the worst. Sevilla are unbeaten in eight games, and have won or drawn seven of their ten competitive matches against English opposition. Moreover, they did not concede away from home as they recorded a victory and two draws during the group stage. Leicester may not be cowering as Sampaoli’s men come calling, but – regardless of Sevilla’s recent performances – they still have reason to be fearful.