Sergio Rico can be the man to push David De Gea for Spain's No. 1 shirt
Manchester City will be keen to secure all three points when they host Sevilla at the Etihad on Wednesday in the first match of their Champions League double-header. The man providing the last line of defence for their opponents will be Sergio Rico, who rose from relative obscurity to play a key part in Sevilla's Europa League triumph last season.
Rico was raised on the outskirts of Seville as the youngest of four siblings in a Sevilla-supporting family. He joined the club's academy at the age of eight, made good progress through the ranks and was the starting goalkeeper for the side that won the Spanish Under-18 Championship in 2012. He began to train with the senior squad thereafter, where he was taken under the wing of his childhood idol and then first-team goalkeeper Andres Palop.
Rico began last season in the B team but injuries to first-choice goalkeeper Beto and reserve Mariano Barbosa in Sevilla's first two matches of the season soon handed him an unexpected first-team opportunity. He kept a clean sheet on his debut against Getafe and once more in the Europa League win at home to Feyenoord four days later. Beto returned shortly thereafter but suffered another injury in February that saw Rico again take the reins.
The young goalkeeper barely put a foot wrong in a series of secure displays as Sevilla put together a strong end-of-season run to finish fifth in La Liga and lift the Europa League trophy for a second consecutive year. His performances in the latter competition, in particular away to Villarreal, were especially impressive. He was handed the No. 1 jersey this summer but it was Beto who somewhat surprisingly began the new campaign as first choice.
Rico did not, however, have to wait long for an opportunity, as Beto picked up yet another injury in mid-September. After a few mixed performances, the 22-year-old produced an impressive display in the recent win at home to Barcelona, which included a strong close-range stop to deny Neymar. He afterwards joined up with the Spanish national team for the third time, although he is yet to receive any minutes from coach Vicente del Bosque.
Rico is a tall and slenderly built custodian who practices a calm, conservative and secure style of goalkeeping -- a marked contrast to the highly proactive, often reckless approach of Beto. He generally sticks to his line and relies on good positioning and solid reactions to make his saves. His build, gait and style are reminiscent of those of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
- good positioning
- a good close-range shot-stopper
- reluctant to command his area
- slow footwork
- occasional concentration errors
Handling: His handling is generally very solid and if he is unable to hold, he usually displays sufficient forethought to ensure that the ball is pushed away from immediate danger. But there are also moments in which he fumbles or fails to prevent a saveable shot from slipping past. He must seek to eradicate these concentration errors from his game.
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Agility: Displays good arm and hand reactions, particularly from close-range efforts. Partly as a function of his height, he is, however, a little slow to get down to low efforts, while he also struggles to readjust quickly when surprised by the flight or direction of the ball. Definitely needs to work on the speed of his footwork.
Positioning: Positions himself conservatively and does a good job of covering the angles. Only emerges forward off his line when absolutely necessary. Not usually tasked with sweeping up in behind his defence, although he has done so to solid effect when required.
Command of Area: Despite his inexperience, he is not shy in communicating with his defenders. He does not, however, take full advantage of his height (6'4") when dealing with high balls into the area. He generally sticks to his line and relies on his defenders to clear, which has become a regular cause of frustration for Sevilla supporters.
Distribution: Relatively comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of clipping nice accurate passes out to the flanks. He can look a little awkward under medium-to-heavy pressure, although that is more a function of his lanky gait than any major technical deficiencies. Rarely distributes from his hands.
What The Experts Say
Former Sevilla and Real Madrid goalkeeper Francisco Buyo: "Sergio Rico is young but talented. He played very well last season, showed lots of personality and amply demonstrated his ability. Vicente [del Bosque] knows how to judge a goalkeeper, and it is not by chance that he called up Sergio Rico."
Former Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop: "Sergio has a clear objective, which is to secure himself a place among the elite. He is a goalkeeper with a great future ahead of him and if Sevilla continue to show confidence in him they will have a goalkeeper for the long term."
Thought that @sergiorico25 did well again today for Sevilla. Will be DDG's strongest competition for Spain jersey over next few years.- David Cartlidge (@davidjaca) October 3, 2015
Rico has enjoyed an incredible rise over the last year or so -- from Sevilla's B team to first-team starter, Europa-League winner and national team squad member -- and must now work hard to continue his upward momentum. While he has certain sought-after physical and technical attributes, there are still areas of his game that need improving and experience that needs to be gained before he can become a consistent and reliable top-level goalkeeper.
The 22-year-old appears to have a good head on his shoulders, as evidenced by the mature manner in which reacted to Beto's return to the starting XI at the beginning of the season. He didn't complain but simply got his head down, worked hard and waited for his opportunity to arrive. Indeed, his level-headedness, both on and off the pitch, is an attribute that Del Bosque believes could prove key to him enjoying a successful career.
With Beto soon expected back from injury, Wednesday's match against City will provide Rico with a good opportunity to show that he deserves to be Sevilla's first-choice goalkeeper going forward. And if he can perform at a similar level to his display in the recent victory over Barcelona, they will have a solid chance of coming away from the Etihad with a point or more to their name.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.