With just 13 games played, Pablo Machin’s Sevilla sit loud and proud at the top of La Liga although even their most ardent fans would probably admit that it is probably more by luck than judgment; more by accident than design.
Just six points separate the top seven clubs as everybody seems to be taking points off everyone. Could Sevilla conceivably maintain their challenge all the way to only its second-ever La Liga title? (The last one was in the 1945-46 season).
Probably not but it has certainly been a topsy-turvy season that has seen shocks aplenty – Real Madrid thumped 3-0 at Eibar and the then top placed Barcelona going down to the then bottom place Leganes, to name but two – so just about anything looks like it could be possible.
But what is most interesting is how Sevilla managed to get themselves into this position.
While they are certainly the form side having lost just once in nine games with a return of 22 points from a possible 27, it was changes forced upon them by injury that precipitated the upturn in their fortunes.
That, and the fact that Pablo Machin is holding a number of trump cards in his hand.
Machin has always favoured playing three at the back plus the use of two defensive midfielders. Unfortunately injuries suffered by the two men specifically picked for that job (Ibrahim Amadou and Maxime Gonalons) meant he had to improvise. When he placed Ever Banega in that position he will have been more than pleasantly surprised to see the midfielder take to the task like the proverbial duck to water.
If Machin has one quality it is his ability to adapt and his decision to opt for one holding midfielder instead of two and play a second forward (Ben Yedder) up front came after a 2-0 home defeat by Getafe. He felt the players were demanding it, he realised changes were needed. So far it has proved to be his ‘eureka’ moment.
No player in La Liga has won the ball back more often than Banega this season and the balance is further established with Franco Vazquez playing to his left and Pablo Sarabia to his right, two players that up to then had been considered to be far more attack-minded than their new roles demanded.
But somehow this shake it and see combination has brought home the ‘jamon’ and Machin has also been helped by some seriously impressive form from some of his other players, at both ends of the pitch.
In the Czech, Tomas Vaclik, Machin has probably got the, currently, most impressive goalkeeper in La Liga while up front Andre Silva, currently on loan from AC Milan but whom Sevilla want to buy, is having the season of his life. He has been aided and abetted by Wissam Ben Yedder who Machim orignally wanted to sell, but who has also subsequently shown everyone just effective he can be.
Jesus Navas, back in his beloved hometown since August last year, is enjoying a real swansong of a season and is crossing the ball as well, if not better, than he ever did in his heyday.
But much will now depend on what business Sevilla can do in the upcoming winter window because they will almost certainly need to strengthen in depth if they hope to strive for La Liga glory.
The reason for that is clear to see. With Amadou still in the process of getting to match fitness and Gonalons out of the picture, when Machin has attempted to re-cycle the side as he did when he played Roque Mesa in the defensive midfield role, what you got was a weaker looking Sevilla although a great goalkeeper and two in-form strikers have been able to mask the problem.
He will, therefore, be looking to add another holding midfielder and another striker to take the pressure off Andre Silva and Ben Yedder. They do have the Dutchman, Quincy Promes, and Muriel, although neither has made too much of an impact since they arrived at the club.
And it is also perhaps worth pointing out that it will cost them a cool €35m should they decide – which they surely will – to sign Silva on a permanent basis when his loan spell ends, more than €15m more than they have ever spent on one player (Luis Muriel) in the club’s history.
Whoever they buy will have to hit the floor running because Machin will know better than anyone that he will need reinforcements if he is to keep up the momentum and level of competitiveness that will help them to mount a serious challenge for the title.
Win it or not they certainly look like a very good bet indeed for a top-four finish and aided by a good wind and similar strokes of good fortune such as those already enjoyed, who knows what might pan out at the end of what is proving to be a wonderful and intriguing season.