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Sevilla is challenging La Liga's hierarchy with chaotic soccer and undervalued players

Manager Jorge Sampaoli and director of football Monchi have constructed a team that's going to drive Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid nuts all season.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Almost every year, one of La Liga's smaller players messes up the top of the table for a few months. Eventually, they come back to Earth and order is restored. Barcelona and Real Madrid are always two of the top three, and before Atlético Madrid emerged, they were unchallenged at the top for nearly a decade. Sevilla is the team shaking things up this year, but they don't look like they'll be leaving the top three alone anytime soon.

The way Atléti set up for their match against Sevilla on Sunday was evidence of Diego Simeone's respect for his opponents. He lined up in a 4-4-2 that emphasized the positioning of his central midfielders and asked his strikers to participate in defending. When Sevilla established possession, Atléti prioritized defending shape over aggressively trying to win the ball. They played Sevilla like they'd play Europe's biggest teams, because Sevilla, under new manager Jorge Sampaoli, is already an excellent passing team -- on Sunday, they had 60 percent of the possession and completed nearly twice as many passes as their opponent.

But even more than that, they're excellent at capitalizing on mistakes and breaking forward quickly, which is exactly how they scored their winning goal. The man who scored was Steven N'Zonzi, the much more defensive midfielder in a two-man center that most modern managers would find to be too thin in numbers, especially if N'Zonzi is making forward runs. Sampaoli does not see soccer the same way -- he wants to create chaos, and he trusts his players to cover for each other well enough to allow runners like N'Zonzi to get back into position if possession is lost during their quick breaks forward. And even if there isn't cover and they do concede, they'll just try again, and again, and again. To most mangers, a 2-0 win is close to ideal. Sampaoli has no problem with trying to win games 6-4.

Anyway, N'Zonzi didn't give away possession and allow Atléti to score on the other end. He just torched the best defense on Earth with an incredible run off a perfect through ball from Luciano Vietto and finished past Jan Oblak.

Credit: user teatoddler on r/soccer

The goal was a perfect example of what makes Sampaoli teams entertaining and difficult to defend against. It was the kind of goal his Universidad de Chile and Chilean national sides scored regularly. But the presence of the man who provided the assist represents the other half of the equation that adds up to Sevilla's success on the pitch, director of football Monchi.

Despite offers from every big club in Europe over the last couple of seasons, Monchi has opted to stay at Sevilla. Instead of playing with a huge budget of a mega-club to build the team of his dreams, he seems to enjoy the challenge of taking Sevilla's comparably modest budget and building a side that can challenge for trophies and a top four place in La Liga. He was the architect of their three Europa League teams under coach Unai Emery, and he appears to have built an even better team for a new coach with a new style.

An incredible 14 players left Sevilla this summer, through returns to their parent clubs after their loans expired, sales, and loans out. Some players wanted to leave for more money, while others didn't fit Sampaoli's system and had to be offloaded quickly to get their wages off the books, allowing Monchi breathing room to bring in new talent. Grzegorz Krychowiak and Ever Banega, two superstar midfielders, were among those who left. Striker Kevin Gameiro departed for Atléti, who he started for against Sevilla on Sunday. And Vietto, who Simeone couldn't make work in his system, was sent on loan the other way, only to strike back against his parent club with a game-winning assist.

Vietto was one of 11 new players to arrive in Seville this summer, and one of four who are on loan. The biggest permanent signing has been Franco Vázquez, a midfielder who arrived from Palermo for €15 million, a significant fee for Sevilla, even if Barca, Madrid, top Premier League clubs -- and even Atléti these days -- don't have to think twice before investing that much in an average squad player. Vazquez has been two players at once in the Sevilla midfield, constantly providing defensive cover and breaking up attacks while surging forward and recording six goals in La Liga so far this season. His attacking prowess was contained on Sunday, but he was no less important for Sevilla. He constantly got stuck into challenges with Koke and Gabi in the center of the pitch, frustrating Atléti's central midfielders and showing that he's more than just an attacker.

Some of Sevilla's other new stars are players who'd been forgotten about, written off, or told by their clubs they were no longer wanted -- Paulo Henrique Ganso, Gabriel Mercado, Samir Nasri. These were not highly coveted players. Sevilla did not face stiff competition from top teams. Ganso is always injured, Mercado was too old to make the jump to Europe, Nasri was a headcase. But Monchi saw something in them other directors didn't, and now Sevilla is reaping the rewards.

It's unlikely that Sevilla wins La Liga. Leicester comparisons aren't helpful or valid -- Barca, Madrid and Atléti are simply much better than any team in the Premier League was last season. But they don't have to do a Leicester to have a successful season, or to make life difficult for the big three. All Sevilla has to do is stick around, keep getting results, keep being thoroughly annoying, then make all of those clubs at the top run and scrape and claw for 90 minutes when they play Los Rojiblancos. Their director has assembled the right group of players for the right coach for them to keep doing just that.

Sevilla is not a flash in the pan. They're here to keep La Liga weird and chaotic for the rest of the season.