As recently as late March, Sevilla were threatened by improbable relegation from La Liga with only the UEFA Europa League left to fight for in terms of silverware. Fast forward from the first day of April, an opening 2-0 win away at Andalusian rivals Cadiz on Jose Luis Mendilibar's debut, and Los Nervionenses are arguably Spain's most in-form team.
Six wins from eight games in La Liga on top of knocking both Manchester United and Juventus out of Europe and just one loss from 12 outings across all competitions has changed the mood in Seville. Now just one point from the continental qualifying spots in the league with four games to go, Mendilibar's men also have a shot at a record-extending seventh Europa League crown.
Starting at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Sunday against bitter rivals Real Betis in El Gran Derbi, these final five games of the 2022-23 season could go down as legendary in Sevilla's history. Nemanja Gudelj, part of the 2020 UEL-winning side under Julen Lopetegui, admitted that knocking Betis out of Champions League contention while qualifying via Europe themselves appeals.
"Of course, it is very motivating for us after a very difficult season," said the Serbia international to CBS Sports during a press round table event organized by La Liga. "Very few people believed that Sevilla could play in the Champions League next season. Now we have it in our hands -- it is one game for us to save the difficult season that we have had. We have already been saving it with our recent results, but winning the Europa League would crown it all."
Gudelj has seen three different coaches this season with Lopetegui, then Jorge Sampaoli and now Medilibar. The former wrote the most recent chapter in Sevilla's incredible love affair with the Europa League but the versatile 31-year-old suggested that the Andalusian outfit's UEL pedigree runs much deeper than that.
9 - Only in one of the last 10 seasons had there not been at least one Spanish team ?? in one of both big European finals (#CHL & #UEL): 2018/19 (four English sides). Real Madrid & @SevillaFC_ENG in 5 each, Atlético de Madrid in 3, and Barcelona & Villarreal in 1 each. Ham. pic.twitter.com/nOcXDJSosA— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 18, 2023
"I think Sevilla will always believe when we play in the Europa League because of the special connection that we have with it," said Gudelj. "There is always belief, no matter the situation -- even when we were not showing our best side in La Liga, we were still playing well in Europe. Against PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce and Manchester United, those kinds of games accumulating give you lots of confidence for the league as well as in the Europa League."
With only 12 points left to play for and 15 separating them from the fourth Champions League spot, Sevilla's only route into Europe's top club competition is through the Europa League. Villarreal did so under Unai Emery the year after title No. 6 arrived at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan while UEL final opponents AS Roma have worked their way up the continental ladder through Europa Conference League success under Jose Mourinho.? The two meet on May 31 live on?Paramount+.?
"I think there is a statistic that said of Sevilla going into the quarterfinals that we had always won the competition once we reached that stage before," added Gudelj on the team's stunning Europa League strength. "I hope that it will also be true of this time and we will do our best to achieve that."
By the time that Sevilla arrive in the U.S. for La Liga's summer tour, which will take them to San Francisco where they will face Atletico Madrid in preseason, Mendilibar may well have restored them to Champions League status. After their chastening group stage showing and league struggles just a few months ago, this is a world removed from that.