Graham Ruthven: Machin stays grounded as Sevilla scale the heights

Surprise package Sevilla are living the dream at the top of La Liga and all the signs are that they will stay there for a while yet ...

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The only thing predictable about La Liga this season is its unpredictability. In an ordinary season, Real Madrid’s humiliating defeat to Eibar would have been an almighty anomaly, a glitz in the footballing matrix, but this season, it was just one episode of chaos in a whole series of near lawlessness.

While 14 points separate Manchester City from seventh place Manchester United in the Premier League this season, just six points divides the same number of teams at the top of La Liga after 13 fixtures.

Real Madrid have dropped points to Athletic Bilbao, Alaves, Levante and Eibar, while Barcelona have slipped up against Girona, Leganes and Real Betis. Not even Atletico Madrid have been spared the chaos, losing to Celta Vigo and drawing with Eibar, Villarreal and Leganes.

Andre-Silva-Sevilla

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From this, Sevilla have risen, with their win over Real Valladolid on Sunday enough to take them to the top of the Liga table. With the winter break coming into view, the Andalusian outfit are leading the title race in Spain, and with a favourable run of fixtures between now and the new year it’s certainly possible that they will stay there for the foreseeable future. They could even stretch their lead over the likes of Atleti, Barca and Real.

So are Sevilla for real? Can they really go all the way and upset the Spanish football establishment to become the first club outside Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid in 15 years to win the Liga title? Or is their recent run of form a flash in the pan just as it was two seasons ago, when Jorge Sampaoli’s side spent a spell at the top of the table?

In Pablo Machin, Sevilla have a manager leading something of a quiet revolution. The 43-year-old was the mastermind behind Girona’s rise to the top tier of the Spanish game, establishing the tiny Catalan club as a top half team in their promotion season. What’s more, Girona did this as one of the most dynamic, exhilarating teams to watch of the 2017/18 campaign.

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Many of the principles that made Girona what they were last season have since been carried over to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with Sevilla now a distinctly modern outfit in their identity. Machin is also maximising what he has, getting the best out of players deemed, not so long ago, washed up or second rate.

Take Andre Silva, the Portuguese forward who scored just twice in 24 appearances for AC Milan last season, for example. Machin has turned him into one of the most potential strikers in the European game, scoring eight goals in 12 La Liga outings for Sevilla.

Jesus Navas is another who has been given a new lease of life by the former Girona boss, with Ever Banega and Simon Kjaer too more performing at their peak.

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“I had never dreamed we would be league leaders at this stage,” Machin said in a recent interview.

“But I’m not a dreamer, I am quite realistic but we know that when we compete well and reach our level, we will have success. Things can change very quickly in this league but I have said that from the beginning and football is a game of passion and for dreaming, so we will allow our fans to do that.

We are performing at a very high level and are above teams historically destined to fight for the top positions, so we will savour this position and push for more.

Indeed, Machin is right to allow his Sevilla team, and their colourful, passionate fanbase to dream. Diego Simeone allowed his Atletico Madrid side to dream four years ago and that dream became a reality.

Sevilla this season are a very different team to the one Atleti were back then, but the precedent has been set to follow. There have been so many shocks and surprises in La Liga this season, there’s no reason to believe Sevilla can’t deliver another.

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