The table doesn’t lie after 22 games – Sevilla are just four points behind leaders Real Madrid and they have kept the pace despite suffering more than most through injuries, coronavirus, and international call-ups.
If the missing players come back, if Diego Carlos stays, and if Madrid have problems of their own in the run-in, then Sevilla have a chance of winning what would be only the second league in their 132-year history.
Signing Anthony Martial is a statement of intent – the clearest indication that Sporting Director Monchi believes the title is possible this year too.
Sevilla have signed Anthony Martial on loan and will hope he can fire them to the LaLiga title
The 26-year-old was unveiled on Wednesday and will make his debut a week Saturday away at Osasuna.
He has joined the club because he wants to put himself in the shop window for a permanent move next summer, and to get himself back in the France squad ahead of the next World Cup.
But he’s also going because Sevilla have sold the club to him – even if it’s only for five months, they have convinced him that he will start enjoying being a footballer again.
Martial left Manchester United for more game time, and has put himself in the shop window
His new club will look to help the striker enjoy his football again after selling him their project
Real Madrid remain favourites to win the title but if they get side-tracked by the Champions League double header with Paris Saint Germain and a domestic cup run.
And if Carlo Ancelotti’s preference for not rotating in the first half of the season comes back to bite him at the business end of the campaign then no team will be better placed to overtake them.
No one wants it more than Julen Lopetegui who knows winning the league in Spain with a club who have not managed it since 1946 would leave him with the pick of Europe’s top jobs.
Even running Ancelotti close and reaching the Europa League final – this year set to be played in Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium – would edge him closer to a chance with an elite club.
Julen Lopetegui has guided his side to within touching distance of league leaders Real Madrid
Manchester United are still scouring the market for options post Ralf Rangnick. If Lopetegui gets Martial playing again – something beyond Rangnick in the short time he had to work with him; and also for the most part beyond Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho – then it would put him in the frame for that job too.
At first Martial is likely to be back in the central striking berth he favours. He won’t wear nine because that’s already been taken by another recent recruit, the Mexican Tecatito Corona, but he will be the team’s nominal nine while the Moroccan forward Youssef En-Nesyri plays the African Nations Cup.
When En-Nesyri returns there might be the need for more flexibility. Lopetegui favours a 4-3-3 and both Martial and En-Nesyri could play in any of the front three positions along with live wire Argentinian Lucas Ocampos.
However the chips fall Sevilla have boosted their attack in a way few of their supporters believed possible when whispers of the club going for Martial first emerged.
Martial is likely to play as a No 9 in Spain, but the versatile star can also be used on both wings
They have not been deterred by Manchester United supporters admitting they are glad to see the back of Martial. Sevilla have rehabilitated down-in-the-mouth strikers before.
When Frederic Kanoute left Tottenham for Sevilla in 2005 it didn’t seem like Spurs might regret allowing him to leave but the Mali striker went on to win six trophies and finished up as the fourth highest scorer in the club’s history.
Martial was asked about Sevilla’s French connection in his presentation press conference yesterday. He will have Jules Kounde to help him acclimatize with the central defender, wanted for two seasons running by Chelsea, almost certain to stay at the club until June.
Slightly less certain is the future of Diego Carlos. Sevilla have no intention of accepting a bid of just 35m euros for their defensive leader. The same bid made in the summer might have more success with time to spend the money and rebuild.
Ralf Rangnick was not able to extract the best of Martial and was happy to allow him to leave
But with the clock ticking on the transfer window Sevilla, even with one of the game’s best Sporting Directors, would be hard pushed to adequately cover his departure.
A silly bid – closer to 60m euros would make for a change of heart but as they days go by it becomes harder to envisage them having their arm twisted, there is so much at stake.
To use the famous Spanish football idiom signing Martial and losing Diego Carlos would be like pulling the blanket up around the ears only to expose the feet – one step forward and another back, in other words.
Sevilla may be able to put a smile back on the frontman’s face as they look to secure silverware
If they can keep their centre-back and if Sevilla can put a smile back on Martial’s face (he was laughing on Wednesday during the usual misunderstandings of a translator-assisted press conference) then all bodes well for the end of Sevilla’s season.
‘In football who knows,’ he said when asked if he might stay beyond the original five months. ‘For now it’s just for five months’.
If in those five months he helps Sevilla win a trophy – either the Europa League in their own stadium, or La Liga, would be historic achievements – then everyone will be happy.