For the most part, the history of La Liga has always been dominated by two teams: Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona. Since the start of this century, there have occasionally been teams that have defied those odds and were able to hoist the league trophy. And midway through the 2016-17 season, that seems to be the route where the league is headed.
Nineteen games in and Sevilla is right on Real Madrid’s tail for La Liga’s top spot by a point with one match to go. The possibility of Sevilla winning its second Spanish crown could happen, but considering that there is still a second half on the way, it still seems like a long shot. Regardless of whether it can actually finish at the top of the table, going this deep into the year and still being in contention for the league title — while staying in between Real Madrid and Barcelona — is staggering.
For the first time in a long time, the story of the year so far hasn’t been about who’s going to win between Real Madrid or Barcelona. It’s now about how Sevilla’s uprising culture is being noticed and enhanced since the hiring of its first-year coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Before Sampaoli took charge, Sevilla was succeeding outside of Spain in winning three UEFA Europa League titles from 2013-16. Meanwhile, Sampoli was managing Chile to make a run for the 2014 Fifa World Cup, which abruptly ended in the round of 16, but not before coincidentally upsetting the Spaniards in the group stage. He’d make history a year later with Chile, leading them to win its first major title at the 2015 Copa America.
The reason for this significance is that the culture that Sampoli established at Chile is the same vibe he has been able to carry to Sevilla. The team is no longer just looking to place in a meaningful outside top-seven position for European play, but midway through this campaign, it is challenging to be the King of Spain. Victories over Atlético Madrid, the 2013-14 league champion, along with ending Real Madrid’s 40 game unbeaten streak in week 18, are the highlights to prove that.
But of course, a Spanish season isn’t one without its headliner dominating the early competition. Real Madrid, as it’s grown accustomed to seeing, won its first four games before getting caught up into some unusual predicaments in tying three straight games. From there on, it would go on to win eight of nine games, including its thumping of crosstown nemesis Atlético Madrid and a late equalizer by Sergio Ramos in Barcelona.
Barça, on the other hand, was in trouble from the early going as it uncharacteristically dropped a match to a newly promoted Alaves squad on its home field. Another losing performance would follow a few weeks later to Celta Vigo, with the two defeats leaving it in a precarious position. Real Madrid led by as much as six points and was looking like it was going to run away with La Liga.
Any team other than Barcelona could have easily put away its illusions for the season. Sevilla, however, is still very much in the mix to reach the crown. The team has managed to not only stay alive for a shot at glory, but it has left itself the opportunity to plant the one seed it has been missing in bringing legitimacy to its club.
That is not to say this season is going to end up like Leicester City’s unprecedented story or even come close to reaching the magic of its season — but it’ll definitely be remarkable. A coach in his first year in Europe can potentially take a team to the top after 71 years and make his own story.
Contact Oscar Oxlaj at [email protected]