It’s been a long wait for Manchester United to return to action on the European stage, but UEFA Champions League football is finally upon us this week.
The Reds face a tough assignment against five-times Europa League winners Sevilla in the last 16 and travel to Spain for the first leg, which takes place on Wednesday night.
Club magazine Inside United enlisted the help of Spanish football expert Andy Brassell to get the lowdown on our La Liga opponents from Andalucia. Here’s everything you need to know about Sevilla…
THEIR HISTORY IN 100 WORDS
Formed back in 1890, Sevilla are Spain’s oldest club just dedicated to football, rather than being a multisports entity such as Barcelona or Real Madrid, and Andalucia’s most successful club – having won 13 major trophies and four second-tier titles but their only La Liga triumph came in 1946. After disappointingly spending three seasons in the second tier at the end of the 1990s, the team found joy and stability under the five-year tenure of locally born coach Joaquin Caparros before his successor Juande Ramos, who went on to manage Tottenham Hotspur, created the team that brought Sevilla to Europe’s attention.
THE LOWDOWN ON THE TEAM
It’s a time of profound change for Sevilla, who lost talented coach Jorge Sampaoli to Argentina and sporting director Monchi following 30 years of service with the club. As someone who represented the heart and soul of the club, Monchi left a legacy which has been taken on by his old right-hand man Oscar Arias. The club has built a versatile squad which boasts a better group of players than the one edged out by then-Premier League champions Leicester City at the same stage of the competition last year, with midfield maestro Ever Banega now back at the club after spending one season with Inter Milan. Typically set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation by coach Vincenzo Montella, who took over from Eduardo Berizzo in late December, the midfield pair of Steven N’Zonzi and Banega provide stability behind a dangerous attacking quartet now led by club record signing Luis Muriel.
THE EUROPEAN PEDIGREE
Despite progressing from a tough group featuring Juventus and Lyon to reach the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 last season, Sevilla are more typically associated with the Europa League, having won the trophy a record five times since 2006 (including its incarnation as the UEFA Cup). The first two of those triumphs, in 2006 and 2007, were achieved by one of the most celebrated sides in the club’s history. Coached by Juande Ramos and featuring the likes of Dani Alves, Luis Fabiano and the late Antonio Puerta, the club youth product who tragically died after collapsing during a match later in 2007. Unai Emery presided over the club’s glorious three-in-a-row in 2014, 2015 and 2016, for which the coach needs to be afforded an enormous amount of credit. In terms of the Champions League and the European Cup, this season is only the sixth time in the club’s history they have competed in the competition. Sevilla reached the quarter-finals in 1957/58 and the other five appearances have been in the Champions League era. Last season, they fell to Leicester City in the last 16 after losing 3-2 on aggregate, but didn’t progress from a group containing Manchester City and Juventus in 2015/16. They also made the last 16 in 2007/08 and 2009/10.
THE FANS ARE FEROCIOUS
There are few more atmospheric footballing venues in Spain than Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Also known as Nervion, after the district in which it’s located, it’s reassuringly old-fashioned, set in the middle of a built-up area and making it easy to recall memories of some of the biggest occasions its hosted – such as the 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and Germany, and the 1986 European Cup final in which Steaua Bucharest beat Terry Venables’ Barcelona on penalties. The magnificent façade, a mosaic incorporating club crests from all over the world and surrounding the club’s own badge, covers the front of the stadium on approach from the west side and hints at the experience waiting inside. At every home game, the whole stadium sings a rousing rendition of the club’s anthem Himno Centenario minutes before kick-off. Once the game starts, the club’s ultras, the Biris Norte group who congregate behind the goal at the north end of the stadium, keep the energy up. The group was formed in the 1970s and named after the Gambian forward Biri Biri – Alhaji Momodo Nije, the club’s first black player.
PREVIOUS AGAINST UNITED
The Reds have never played Sevilla in a competitive game before but have faced the Spanish side in a couple of friendlies at Old Trafford. United were beaten 3-1 in Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial match in 2013, but ran out 3-0 winners against the then UEFA Cup holders in 2006 thanks to goals from Louis Saha, Cristiano Ronaldo and young substitute David Jones.
See the articles below for more essential reading on our Champions League tie...