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Sevilla won 6-4 in Jorge Sampaoli's 1st La Liga game as manager. You should watch them this season.

The shock of Jorge Sampaoli’s approach is exactly what Sevilla has been looking for.

Sevilla FC v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Sevilla supporters would have been expecting excitement when former Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli was announced as Unai Emery’s replacement at the Pizjuán, and excitement is exactly what their first league game of the season delivered.

After two slightly worrying defeats — to Real Madrid and Barcelona in the continental and domestic Super Cups respectively — a little skepticism would have been understandable before kickoff. However, the Andalusian outfit twice came from behind to beat a stubborn Espanyol 6-4 in a spectacular performance on the opening La Liga matchday, and Sampaoli’s side demonstrated the same attacking enterprise as the national team he led to a first ever Copa América title last year.

Of course, neither Sampaoli nor the supporters would have been banking on conceding four goals, and the more pessimistic onlooker would’ve been more concerned with the state of Sevilla’s defense than impressed by the might of their attack. But it’s very early in the season, and earlier still in Sampaoli’s project to go even better than Emery managed in leading the club to three consecutive Europa League titles. While the players are still becoming accustomed to the notoriously complex game of their new coach, just managing to get points on the board is no mean feat. If they’re already looking so threatening going forward, there could well be exciting times ahead.

The cause for optimism is boosted yet further by the simple fact that Sevilla looks an ideal home for a coach like Sampaoli. He is well known as a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, and echoes of the Argentine’s legendary approach were in evidence in the match against Espanyol: the back three, the intense pressing, the constant movement in the final third — all tactical strategies used to great effect by the radical footballing luminary. But notwithstanding Bielsa’s legions of admirers, the very biggest European clubs have never been willing to gamble on his hiring; instead, his greatest success came in a short but thoroughly entertaining spell at Athletic Bilbao.

The marriage worked because the club were small enough to sacrifice the absolute control that Bielsa needed to create the team he desired. Bilbao’s Basque-only policy meant that control did not extend as far into the transfer market as it might have elsewhere, but the club’s hierarchy were happy to step back and give Bielsa the time to implement his strategy. It helped, of course, that in the seasons before his arrival, they had struggled to achieve anything more than mid-table mediocrity in La Liga. With a squad too strong to be relegated, they had little to lose by bringing in the Argentine. The result was a low-risk appointment that had the potential to offer a disproportionately high reward, and though Bilbao never did manage to lift any silverware under Bielsa, they were beaten finalists in both the Europa League and Copa del Rey.

Though Sampaoli is clearly arriving at a club with a higher base level than Bilbao — Sevilla has won a European trophy three seasons running and, as a result of their latest one, find themselves in the Champions League this season — the analogy still stands. If there is one criticism of Emery, who doubtless did an impressive job, it is that he wasn’t able to jolt Sevilla from domestic also-rans to serious challengers; paradoxically, the most impressive achievement of his tenure — the Europa League successes — have become a stick with which he can be beaten. Emery’s Sevilla were a great Europa League team, the greatest Europa League team, but never a serious Champions League team or La Liga contender. Indeed, after two consecutive fifth place finishes, last season Sevilla could only manage seventh in the Primera División.

In short, Sevilla in Emery’s latter days looked a little stagnant. If they were to really turn themselves into domestic competitors, they needed someone with the ability to shock them to life. They needed to find their own Diego Simeone. Only time will tell whether Sampaoli is that man, but he’s just about the best gamble that they could have taken. Aggressive, fearless and tactically progressive, he’s certainly going to give them a post-Emery jolt. And like Bilbao when they opted to appoint Bielsa, they don’t have a great deal to lose, but everything to gain.

The upshot is that they’ve backed Sampaoli in the transfer market. He now has a wealth of options up top: summer signings Luciano Vietto and Wissam Ben Yedder formed a fearsome front two in the win over Espanyol, while new arrivals Franco Vázquez and Hiroshi Kiyotake both delivered excellent performances in attacking midfield and out on the right respectively. Joaquín Correa and Ganso, who both offer further creativity in midfield, are still waiting on their first starts. This clever business, overseen by sporting director and transfer market guru — and, if rumors in the last few months are to be believed, one-time Manchester United target — Monchi, has offset their numerous departures, with those of Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kévin Gameiro and Éver Banega chief among them.

This too plays into Sampaoli’s hands. Sevilla now have no choice but to reinvent themselves; they’ve lost many dressing room veterans this summer — including Coke and José Antonio Reyes — and with them a crucial core of Emery’s team. There can now be no romanticism for the olden days, no matter the notoriously difficult training sessions favored by Bielsa and his devotees. Sampaoli’s hiring at Sevilla is sure to come as a shock to the players, just as their 6-4 victory over Espanyol on La Liga’s opening matchday raised more than a few eyebrows in the stands. But the shock is exactly what Sevilla needs if they’re to stand any chance of turning themselves from a good team to a great one.