Few teams in Spanish football are currently as baffling as Sevilla. The Andalusians followed up their magnificent cup victory over Barcelona at Camp Nou last week - a triumph achieved without several key players because of injury and the African Cup of Nations - by losing at home to mid-table Racing Santander at the weekend. Both Racing's goals came from 18-year-old striker Sergio Canales, who is out of contract in the summer and attracting attention.
Sevilla have now lost their last three league games, all of them by the same 2-1 scoreline and against teams in the bottom half of the table, slipping to fifth. They entertain Barca tonight at home in the second leg of their last 16 Copa del Rey tie with the advantage of a 2-1 lead, but with the disadvantage of meeting a side who beat Tenerife 5-0 away on Sunday. The victory against Barca last week aside, the absence of Freddie Kanoute, Luis Fabiano and Didier Zokora is costing Sevilla. Kanoute is central to all their forward play, a formidable front man who brings the other attackers into play.
"We've lost respect for ourselves," admitted the crestfallen coach Manolo Jimenez, whose position is under threat. "We just have to get through January and pick up as many points as possible." It promises not to get any easier for Sevilla, who somehow hope to hold out against a vengeful Barca. They will have to do it twice as Sevilla also play at Camp Nou on Saturday in a league fixture. "We will have to be ourselves," said Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta ahead of tonight's game, "and do what we have done until now.
"We will go there to win, we have no choice in the matter. Winning in Sevilla would be phenomenal and it is very important to qualify for the last eight. "We will go there without any doubts, but we are facing a new situation with every team that we play. "When a team has won everything as we have, everybody wants to beat you. We're seeing teams raise their games even higher than last year. They want to beat the team which won six trophies and they don't want things to go well for you. That's normal, we expect that. It is a challenge for us to be even better than we already are, so we have to play even better."
In tonight's other cup games, Osasuna host second division leaders Hercules, of Alicante, and intend to overcome a 2-1 deficit from the first leg. Hercules' priority is gaining promotion to Spain's top flight for the first time since 1997, but they are enjoying the welcome diversion of a cup run. Alcorcon, who famously knocked Real Madrid out of the cup, travel to Racing Santander with a difficult task having lost 3-2 at home in the first leg.
Getafe welcome Malaga, with the visitors hoping to hold on to their slender 2-1 lead from the first leg, not just because it was only their third win of the season. A good cup run would be a welcome boost for the coffers of cash-strapped Malaga. The most intriguing tie after the Sevilla Barca match is in La Coruna, where Deportivo, who are fourth in the Primera Liga, host Valencia, who sit third.
Valencia have the best away record in Spain, having won seven of their nine league games so far, though Deportivo's mean defence and the fact that they won the first leg 2-1 makes them slight favourites to go through. That score line was no surprise - five of the eight ties finished 2-1. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org