x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Three is a crowd in Spain

Sevilla are a threat to Barca and Real's dominance as coach Jimenez boasts a miserly defence and an attacking line up to be feared.

Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo, right, shoots as Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegui attempts a block.
Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo, right, shoots as Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegui attempts a block.

With a 100 per cent record from their five league games, Real Madrid and Barcelona's perfect starts see them clear at the top of Spain's Primera Liga. Given their enormous resources, playing talents and strength in depth, few expect the duopoly to change, but if Sevilla repeat last season's result and beat Real at home next weekend, they will move above their more feted rivals.

Following a 2-0 opening day defeat at Valencia, Sevilla have won all four league games and have not conceded a goal in their last three. Showing evidence of a team growing in strength, they destroyed Athletic Bilbao - the team above them in third - 4-0 away on Saturday night. So emphatic were Sevilla, coach Manolo Jimenez said with confidence that his side "offer a genuine alternative to Barcelona and Real Madrid for the league."

He will be able to test that statement next weekend, but for now he will be enjoying relative job security having been the favourite to lose his job at the start of the season. Such a statement may surprise after the popular former player led Sevilla to third last season, less so when the temperamental nature of club president Jose Maria Del Nido is considered. This is a man who could start an argument in an empty room.

The biggest team in Andalusia boast a formidable front line, with their record signing Alvaro Negredo from Real supplementing the already lethal Freddie Kanoute and Brazil's first-choice striker Luis Fabiano. Now in his fifth season at the Sanchez Pizjuan, Fabiano did engineer for a move to Milan in the summer, but Sevilla were under no pressure to sell. Fabiano's ego is slowly deflating with the minutes he is spending on the bench, for Jimenez has preferred Negredo and Kanoute as his front two in a 4-4-2 formation. Both scored in the trouncing in Bilbao.

The other goals came from tough Brazilian midfielder Renato and Jesus Navas, one of the most under rated talents not just in Seville, but in world football. Sevilla's attackers usually grab the limelight, but Navas, 24, has been outstanding for three seasons. Usually deployed as a right winger (with the excellent Diego Capel on the left), the fleet-heeled Navas, who made his Sevilla debut two days after his 18th birthday, can also play on the left. Full international honours surely await, although Navas needs to overcome his homesickness. For a Romany Gypsy, he is very uncomfortable on the road, but there was scant evidence on Saturday as he swept in Sevilla's fourth after beating Athletic's offside trap.

Defensively, Sevilla were angered to lose right-back Dani Alves to Barcelona last summer. Jimenez has since established a water-tight defence, with a centre-back partnership of experienced Serbian Ivica Dragutinovic, part of Serbia's "famous four" defensive line up who conceded just one goal in qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup, alongside the French international Sebastien Squillaci, who can also play with compatriot Julien Escude.

Didier Zokora was brought in to add muscle and defensive nous. Sevilla thrived in the Uefa Cup, lifting it in 2006 and 2007, but showed naivety in their only other Champions League sortie two years ago. Repeating their Uefa Cup form, they triumphed in a group containing Arsenal, before being eliminated on penalties by Fenerbahce after drawing 5-5 on aggregate. It was the only tie of the last 16 not to see a clean sheet by either side.

Back in the Champions League with a stronger squad, Sevilla started with a 2-0 victory over Romanians Unirea Urziceni. They play Glasgow Rangers tomorrow night in their second group game and will experience an Ibrox atmosphere unlike any in the Primera Liga this season - that is only because their main rivals neighbours Real Betis have been relegated. When they are up the Seville derby is the best in Spain and having frequently experienced hostility Sevilla will have the talent and know how to overcome the Ibrox crowd.