By LaLiga Santander
Julen Lopetegui could well permit himself a moment for reflection as his current team Sevilla prepare to host his former side Real Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan this Saturday afternoon.
So much has happened since Lopetegui’s short spell as Real Madrid coach in 2018 did not go as planned, but he has done a superb job at Sevilla since taking over the following summer, guiding the team to fourth place in LaLiga last term to qualify for the Champions League, and topping that by winning the Europa League trophy last August.
Sevilla were in a difficult spot when Lopetegui arrived in the Andalusian capital, with six managers in less than three years having struggled to follow Unai Emery’s success in winning three consecutive Europa League titles during the now-Villarreal coach’s time in the Andalusian capital.
Lopetegui also had plenty to prove when he arrived in Sevilla, with his rollercoaster time as Spain coach also fresh in the mind. Meanwhile, renowned rojiblanco sporting director Monchi had himself returned after a time away, and the same summer saw 43 players either joining or leaving the club.
A new team was quickly put together, built off the solid foundations of centre-backs Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, and experienced holding midfielder Fernando as Monchi continued his reputation for spotting gems in the transfer market.
That provided a platform for Argentina international Ever Banega to go to work constructing the play. An excellent run of results included a morale-boosting 2-1 derby win at city neighbours Real Betis even brought talk through the autumn and winter of an unlikely LaLiga Santander title challenge
Lopetegui was also looking more relaxed than during his time at the pressure-cooker Santiago Bernabeu, while he instilled in his team a characteristic ability to roll with the punches - such as unfortunate losses at both the Bernabeu and Camp Nou over first half of the season, and elimination in the Copa del Rey to LaLiga SmartBank side Mirandes in February.
After the COVID-19 lockdown break, Sevilla’s first game back brought another derby victory over Betis and began a run of six wins and five draws in their last 11 games to easily secure a top four spot.
That domestic form also set Lopetegui’s side up for the Europa League final stages in Germany in August. The superbly coached side eased past Roma, Wolves, Manchester United to the final in which they held their nerves superbly to beat Inter Milan 3-2 and continued Sevilla’s love affair with the competition they have now won a record six times.
Summer 2020 saw Monchi again strengthen the squad with clever signings such as midfielder Ivan Rakitic from Barcelona to replace the departing Banega. Results have been mixed in LaLiga so far, ranging from an excellent 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou to a surprise defeat at home to Eibar. But home wins against Osasuna and Celta Vigo have steadied the ship, with forwards Youssef En-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi in hot goalscoring form.
Lopetegui's team remain in contact with the teams towards the top of the LaLiga Santander table, in this most unpredictable of campaigns, while they have also already sealed an impressive early qualification to the last 16 from their difficult Champions League group.
The focus on Saturday, though, will be all on domestic issues. Real Madrid arrive as reigning LaLiga Santander champions, but also know Sevilla have taken the three points in four of their last five meetings at the Sanchez-Pizjuan. Most of the Blancos squad will also recognise the figure on the home bench – although both they and have moved on very successfully since their time together.
Watch Sevilla FC vs Real Madrid live this Saturday at your local broadcasters.