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Jan 19, 2013

Emery facing uphill task with Sevilla

Sevilla's 1-1 draw at Getafe on Saturday night, in Unai Emery's first Primera Division game in charge, was the club's first away point since early December, but the drab display in a poor game left the team still languishing in La Liga's bottom half and showed the former Valencia coach just how big a challenge he faces to turn their season around.

Emery's side were the better team in the first half and led through Jose Antonio Reyes' well-taken goal, but Adrian Colunga's equaliser just before the break seemed to drain belief from the side, and a poor second half - played in increasingly driving rain - left the coach admitting after the game that his men lack belief at the moment.

"Most important is to get the team's self-confidence back," Emery said. "When you win that is easier. We need that positive spark. That is the process we are entering into."

This echoed the message transmitted during his unveiling last Tuesday. The Basque coach, whose success at Valencia owed a lot to his tactical expertise, spoke instead about commitment and togetherness: "The tactical shape will not be as important as the attitude of the players," he said then, while calling for all involved with the club to start pulling together. "A state of confidence, harmony and union must be created so that things can improve."

This made sense, as there is a sense of free-fall around Sevilla, who last week completed their worst start to a Primera Division season in a decade with the limp 2-0 loss away at Emery's former side. Former coach Michel this week accepted he had deserved the sack - "It is logical as the results have been very bad" - but suggested the club's real problems were located outside the manager's office: "Five coaches have been through here in the last four years," he told Spanish radio. "They cannot all be very bad."

It is actually five coaches in just three years, which only confirms Michel's point. The suggestion that the real issue at the club was its fans not getting behind the team and especially president Jose Maria Del Nido was not over-convincing. "They are not going to leave the president in peace," he said. "He has made mistakes, of course, but they won't let it go." The counter-argument though is that fans' criticism of Del Nido is about the only hopeful sign around Nervion at the moment.

Many Sevilla supporters, and especially their Biris ultras, suppressed their dislike of Del Nido when the club were winning two UEFA Cups and two Copa del Rey trophies in the mid 2000s, but now want shot of him. Feelings on both sides have escalated in recent months, with Biris boycotting home games, and the president holding firm to his decision to ban the flags, banners and drums which are used to boost the atmosphere at games, but also perhaps not coincidentally to loudly protest against the board.

The Biris are no angels - there were nasty incidents after a friendly against local neighbours UD Rotena last summer - but then neither is Del Nido.

"We do not want our club linked with criminal conspiracies," said a Biris statement in August. Which seems fair enough. Fans are also unhappy with Del Nido's use of third-party investors Doyen Group to fund player purchases - including Alberto Botia, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Baba - as Del Nido talks about the need to sell stars with the club's debts rising by €15 million a year.

All of which complicates Emery's task. More positively, the current squad is full of decent quality players, who should really be ahead of city neighbours Real Betis, Levante, Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad in the Liga table. On paper they should be challenging for a top four spot, not travelling to suburban Madrid closer to the relegation zone than the European places.

However, with Santiago Luna sent on loan to Real Mallorca this month to cut the wage bill, Emery had to start Coke out of position at left-back to cover the suspended Fernando Navarro. Botia came in for the injured Spahic at centre-half, with 39-year-old Andres Palop captaining the side from between the posts and the 4-2-3-1 shape favoured by Michel still in place.

Getafe themselves came into the game with seven matches without a win, and were missing seven first teamers. Their re-jigged defence should have been good news for Negredo, who has only eight league goals this season, and none in over a month, and has looked less than sharp in recent games. The burly target-man made a mixed contribution early on, hitting the side-netting after rounding home keeper Carlos Moya, but then showing good awareness to tee up Navas for close-range chance which the Euro 2012-winning winger should really have converted.

On the other wing Reyes had done little until he put his side in front on 40 minutes, calmly controlling a clever back-heel from Rakitic, who had also been quiet up till then, before firing past Moya from eight yards. It was only the ex-Arsenal, Real Madrid and Atletico man's third goal of the season, and his first away from home for over two years.

Having gone in front, deservedly on the run of play, the hope from there would have been to get to half-time ahead and consolidate the advantage. The visitors' lead only lasted three minutes though, with Palop badly at fault as Colunga's free-kick from at least 35 yards and out on the left wing caught in the wind and sailed over the veteran keeper into the net. Just what a side low on confidence did not need.

With conditions worsening the second half was not pretty. Emery kept trying to change things, but the only impact made by any of his three substitutes was the raised arm by Geoffrey Kondogbia which caught Xavi Torres in the face, leading to handbags which ended with yellows for both midfielders. Even the coach's energy was dampened, and he spent less time urging his players on from the sideline and more pacing disconsolately back and forth across the technical area.

Getafe themselves were not playing well, and Negredo fluffed a late chance to impress the watching Spain assistant coach Toni Grande, by excellently killing an Rakitic pass, but then firing wildly over from just inside the area. Navas twice almost took advantage of the strengthening wind to score direct from a corner but that was that.

Afterwards Emery claimed to be relatively happy with how things had turned out. "The most important from the game was not the result, but the capacity for control we showed," he said. "We had the better of the first half, and created the best chances overall. The draw leaves us satisified."

Sevilla's best chance of European qualification now looks the Copa Del Rey, with Zaragoza visiting the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan for Wednesday's quarter-final second leg, and the tie neatly balanced at 0-0.

"Making the semi-finals of the Copa could be a big help," Emery said. "We could do with that."

They could also do with none of Negredo, Rakitic or Fazio leaving before the January transfer window closes. There could also be news as soon as next month from the Spanish supreme court, to which Del Nido is appealing his jail sentence. If his problems worsen then those of the club, at least in the short term, likely will too. Either way the issues at Sevilla look unlikely to be easily resolved any time soon.

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