BARCELONA (Reuters) - A year ago Sevilla were regarded as one of the most exciting teams in Europe and a model club but the Andalusian side have struggled to overcome the departures of coach Jorge Sampaoli and sporting director Monchi.
The void left by the influential pair was glaringly exposed by three consecutive defeats this month, 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, 5-1 at Spartak Moscow and 4-0 at Valencia.
The humiliating defeat in the Russian capital left Sevilla’s hopes of continuing in the Champions League hanging in the balance and they will need to put it behind them on Wednesday in the return game with Spartak at their Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.
Sevilla, Europa League winners three years in a row from 2014-16, will be emboldened against Spartak by their imperious record at home, where they are unbeaten in all competitions in 23 games.
A 2-1 home win over Leganes on Saturday eased the pressure but the shadow of the two departed figures still looms large.
Argentine coach Eduardo Berizzo was seen as a natural successor to compatriot Sampaoli for his footballing philosophy and background as an assistant to the influential Marcelo Bielsa.
The former Celta Vigo manager, however, has been unable to replicate the free flowing, high intensity style Sampaoli imposed on the team before being named Argentina coach this year.
Even though they began the Liga season with four wins from five, they benefited from slices of good fortune and were convincingly beaten by quality opposition in the form of Atletico Madrid, Bilbao and Valencia.
The departure of transfer guru Monchi after 17 years with the club has left an even larger hole.
The former goalkeeper, headhunted by AS Roma this year, repeatedly brought in impressive low cost players who had escaped the attention of bigger clubs, including Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic and Carlos Bacca.
His replacement Oscar Arias has lacked the same midas touch in the transfer market.
Colombian striker Luis Muriel, a club record signing at 20 million euros from Sampdoria, has only scored two goals and winger Nolito has struggled to fill the boots of Spain international Vitolo, who had a bitter departure to Atletico Madrid and is currently on loan at Las Palmas.
Arias believes the club need to move on.
“We knew that Monchi’s departure could cost us dear if things didn’t go well for us,” he told Radio Marca.
“Monchi isn’t here any more and if you compare him to me I’m always going to lose. It’s easy to blame the team’s problems on Monchi not being here.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond