Sevilla sparkle as Europe’s great over-achievers despite Manchester City defeat | Barney Ronay

The Premier League side’s individual quality ultimately shone through but the red and white harmony of Sevilla’s teamwork at a tenth of the price was no less pleasing in defeat

Even in the Champions League, football can still throw up some gloriously well-crafted contrasts. On a mild, dank night at the Etihad Stadium Manchester City huffed towards their first home victory in Champions League Group D with a performance that started slowly, gradually gathered some bloody-minded impetus, and was rewarded when Kevin De Bruyne’s thrilling late goal secured what looks like a vital 2-1 defeat of a classy, supremely well-drilled Sevilla.

De Bruyne’s late, low finish was one of the few moments City found any real space or attacking fluency in a slow-burn game. Yaya Touré put himself about with some feeling. De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling combined once or twice at speed in the inside-left channel. Even so it was hard to avoid the feeling their positions might be better off reversed against this class of opposition. De Bruyne shone as a No10 in Germany. He uses the ball with greater care, has a greater range of pass and is a more mature footballer generally.

City may have hauled themselves back into a position of strength in Group D but the real story within the story here was the Sevilla side of Unai Emery who remain one of the ongoing mini-marvels of elite-level club football.

Sevilla were perhaps a little unlucky to lose after taking the lead and producing a fine away performance marked by an opening hour of wonderfully well-grooved passing and pressing football. At times in that opening period City were a mess: out-passed in midfield in between Touré’s powerful surges; and disorganised at the back where Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolás Otamendi looked like £60m of muscular confusion.

For a while Sevilla’s neatness felt like a lesson in team-play and well-seasoned method. But then, let’s face it, pretty much any team in the world looks like an underachiever next to Sevilla, who are a genuinely remarkable top-level club, not just overachievers in their own league but Europe’s own kings of the coefficient, a team who played 15 Europa League ties last year just to get here, and have now won Europe’s secondary vase four times in the last 10 years.

Before the game some Sevilla fans were involved in an improbable brawl with fans of Poland’s Slask Wroclaw, one of football’s more obscure feuds that dates back to a Europa League tie in 2013. From the start though the knot of fans in the red and white away end were a source of constant noise, unencumbered by anything other than boisterous fun of continuing to defy modern footballing logic. It is one of European football’s genuine white-knuckle success stories, a concoction of free agents, bargain cuts and loanees performing season after season at a relentlessly high level despite having less annual income than Sunderland.

In the last decade under the mercurial director of football, Monchi, Sevilla have traded at a profit on player sales while still continuing to win trophies. Currently their record signing is Steven Nzonzi, who cost £7m from Stoke City, and who appeared from the bench midway through the second half. City’s starting XI came in at around £250m. Sevilla’s cost £25m, or less than one Wilfried Bony.

Sevilla were slick from the start, with Éver Banega a lovely, louche little conductor, always hungry for the ball. With 15 minutes gone Yevhen Konoplyanka hit the post with a free-kick from a wide position, Grzegorz Krychowiak almost scoring from the follow-up.

City had their moments. Touré should have scored with nine minutes gone, narrowly failing to connect with De Bruyne’s cut-back in front of goal. But Banega continued to look the silkiest high-grade playmaker on the pitch. On the half-hour mark, isolated by the corner flag with Pablo Zabaleta, he jinked one way then inside again and crossed, a moment of laughably playground-ish skill.

A minute later Sevilla scored. Banega produced the first chink of light, smuggling the ball through a tiny space to Vitolo inside the area. His low cross found Konoplyanka unmarked and in space to finish. Sevilla’s collection of pressed men, drifters and bargain buys ran to celebrate together by the touchline.

The lead was deserved. The visitors had started not just with precision and intelligence but with a tangible sense of hunger too. The Brazilians call it vestir a camisa, to really wear the shirt. Sevilla wore the shirt here, as they always seem to in Europe.

Five minutes later City flexed their shoulders and equalised. The goal was Touré-made, the result of not one but two driving runs at the Sevilla defence, the ball not so much dribbled as wrestled past Timothée Kolodziejczak. Touré’s cut-back was hacked about the six-yard box before Adil Rami finally put through his own goal.

After which there were moments when the game drifted. Emery’s tactics tend to fit the modern template for levelling the playing field against more powerful opponents, where running and high-pressure team play can always throw a grappling hook across the divide. Ultimately City’s superior individual quality told, that familiar will to win enough to overcome a lack of fluency. Touré deserves credit for running to the end, as does De Bruyne, who was ruthless when it mattered. City are now in a good position to progress from this group. They have a forward line still settling, not to mention a pair of centre-halves who can only – you would think – get better.

For the visitors - never mind the final score, this was still another significant night . How long the plates can keep spinning is anyone’s guess as players come and go each year to balance the books. For now Sevilla in the Champions League feels like an act of quiet footballing insurgency.


Barney Ronay at the Etihad Stadium

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kevin De Bruyne’s late strike earns Manchester City victory over Sevilla
Manchester City defeated Sevilla 2-1 in the Champions League after Kevin De Bruyne scored a with a fine sole effort in the final minute

Daniel Taylor at the Etihad Stadium

21, Oct, 2015 @8:58 PM

Article image
Joy for Rico Lewis as Manchester City recover to see off Sevilla
Teenager Rico Lewis scored on his first start for Manchester City as they came from a goal down to beat Sevilla 3-1 in the Champions League

Jamie Jackson at the Etihad Stadium

02, Nov, 2022 @10:04 PM

Article image
Erling Haaland continues hot streak as Manchester City burn past Sevilla
Erling Haaland helped himself to two more goals as Manchester City eased to a 4-0 victory against Sevilla in Spain

Sid Lowe at Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán

06, Sep, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Manchester City benefit after Manuel Pellegrini finally shows he can be flexible | Jamie Jackson
City’s manager has been reluctant to adjust formation or tactics but at Sevilla he found a pragmatic balance in midfield that bodes well for the future

Jamie Jackson

04, Nov, 2015 @2:55 PM

Article image
Raheem Sterling sparkles as Manchester City beat Sevilla to reach last 16
Manchester City have defeated Sevilla 3-1 to go top of Champions League Group D and qualify for the knock-out phase

Jamie Jackson at Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán

03, Nov, 2015 @9:58 PM

Article image
Manchester City’s Wilfried Bony confident he can help sink Sevilla
Wilfried Bony has been criticised for his lack of goals having missed chances in City’s last two Premier League games

Jamie Jackson in Seville

02, Nov, 2015 @11:10 PM

Article image
Leicester City ready to seize Champions League chance against Sevilla
Leicester City seemed down and out of the Champions League before Jamie Vardy’s first-leg goal but Craig Shakespeare’s side now look equipped to give Sevilla a proper game

Stuart James

13, Mar, 2017 @7:42 PM

Article image
Manuel Pellegrini hails Kevin De Bruyne as ‘perfect’ for Manchester City
Manchester City manager Manual Pellegrini heaped praise on Kevin De Bruyne after he scored the side’s late winner in the 2-1 Champions League win over Sevilla

Daniel Taylor at the Etihad Stadium

21, Oct, 2015 @11:27 PM

Article image
Manuel Pellegrini insists Yaya Touré is happy at Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini has dismissed suggestions that Yaya Touré is unhappy at Manchester City and said he is satisfied with the midfielder’s form

Paul Wilson

20, Oct, 2015 @3:50 PM

Article image
Sergio Agüero will be out for another month, say Manchester City
Manchester City have said that Sergio Agüero will be out for another month as their Champions League tie with Sevilla beckons

Guardian sport

20, Oct, 2015 @1:47 PM