Sevilla are antifragile. Nicholas Nassim explains the concept, popularized in his book by the same name, like this: "Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” He complains about the lack of a word for the opposite of fragile. It’s not quite robustness or resilient because these are words that signify coping with stressors. "The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better,” he says. Sevilla, under the guidance of sporting director Monchi, are the same. They don’t just survive the transfer market, they thrive within it, and even grow from losing their players.
Under Monchi, they won 11 trophies in 2000–2017, and developed almost a monopoly on the Europa League. Monchi went to Rome for two years, where he didn’t have the same effect. "I said it a while ago: the thing that bolsters a policy is when it works,” he mentioned during his spell at Roma, noting his way of doing things didn’t work in Serie A. It was back to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan where he insisted that “sometimes the sequel is better than the original”. It looks like he is staying true to his word after a summer that saw massive turnover and a number of shrewd signings that fit Julen Lopetegui’s system.
Now Sevilla are mounting another title charge. They finished sixth and seventh and went through four managers while he was away. With him back, they are one point off Barcelona and Real Madrid and are arguably the most consistent side in the league, with the most clear ideas as to how they want to play. They signed over a dozen players this summer, and a few have already outperformed their price tags and could be the next big sale under Monchi.
It’s not hyperbole to say Lucas Ocampos was last summer’s best signing. In an article in the New York Times about Monchi, Rory Smith says Sevilla's sporting director likes Ligue 1 because of its competitive balance and that’s where he fished the Argentine from. Ocampos has as many goals, 5 in 13 games under Lopetegui, as he had in 40 games last year with Marseille. To suggest Ocampos is simply a winger would be a disservice, but he does have exceptional dribbling abilities and is not afraid to use them. Only Eden Hazard, Lionel Messi and Denis Suárez dribble more than him.
His 5.21 dribbles per game is almost double Sevilla’s next most eager dribbler, Sergio Reguilon. He also loves to shoot — only Nolito is shooting more than him per 90 minutes. Luke de Jong is the only player with a higher expected goals per 90. Ocampos is aggressive and unpredictable on the ball and is the kind of game-changer that Sevilla, and particularly Lopetegui, need to create chances and keep opponents guessing.
Fighting Ocampos for the signing of the summer is Joan Jordan. In hindsight, he wasn’t that much of a risk, just unknown to those not watching La Liga regularly. He came from a tiny market team, Eibar, who play a very intense and high-pressure game under Jose Luis Mendilibar. He has scored two game-winners for Sevilla, has been great to watch and is dictating games with his effortless technique and hard work.
He doesn’t top many categories for players in his position, but he doesn’t fall outside the top five in many either. His stats reveal the all-round game he is asked to play alongside Ever Banega. The pair handle defensive and attacking duties in equal measure and both are as capable of breaking up an attack as they of creating one out of nothing. For open play final third passes, Jordán and Banega are 5th and 6th in the list for central midfielders with at least 600 minutes played. For passes into the box, Jordán is 6th and Banega is 8th.
Jordán could play in any midfield in Europe at this point and at 25, still has a chance to. On the flipside, if Sevilla keep improving and manage to keep hold of him, they win as well. His pace adjusted interceptions, tackles and pressures are above league average for his position and he also operates with plenty of attacking flair. Depending on his role, Jordán can do whatever is asked of him.
Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé
The Brazilian, Diego Carlos, was another punt taken by Monchi from Ligue 1. Just a note to start: he is the biggest, most imposing player I have ever witnessed on a football field. The word ‘unit’ is thrown around all too often, but Diego Carlos is nothing but muscle, sinew and bone with shoulders you could land a fighter jet upon and a torso that should have its own zip code.
The 26-year-old was taken off after 75 minutes against Espanyol in the first game of the season but since then has played every single minute in La Liga. He is the enforcer on this team and should likely expect a Brazil call-up if his form continues.
Jules Koundé was the most expensive summer signing and in him we could be looking at the next Virgil van Dijk. He is yet to be dribbled past in 674 minutes this season. He is winning 3.83 aerial duels per 90 and Lopetegui’s side are defending exceptionally well for how high they press. Their xG conceded is starting to come down after a couple of rough early games. Now they stand as one of the stingiest defences in the league, which is in stark contrast to their cavalier attack.
Another player that fit Monchi’s profile perfectly. In the New York Times piece mentioned earlier, Smith says Monchi likes players willing to step up or step down in order to test or prove themselves. Torres is stepping up from the Portuguese league after failing to convince Diego Simeone of his worth at Atlético Madrid. He hasn’t carved out a starting place yet, but Lopetegui does rely on him. In their most recent win, at Valladolid, he came on to wrestle control of the game back from the home side.
For attacking midfielders who have played at least 600 minutes, only Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard have more deep progressions. His 47.45 carries per 90 is also behind just the two. One area where Torres fell down was his willingness to sacrifice for Simeone. Under Lopetegui, he leads all players in his position with 600 minutes with 23.27 pressures and 5 pressure regains per 90 minutes. His 27.87 aggressive actions per 90 is also the best. We haven’t really seen Torres in all his attacking glory yet, but after five months at Sevilla he's shown his willingness to work hard and flashes of his exceptional link up play.
Monchi spent between €12 and €15 million for four of the five players mentioned (he paid €35 million for Koundé). They are at the perfect age where a year or two of exceptional play should merit big moves. Selling just one could recoup the money spent to buy those four. Or, alternatively, they could stay and learn further from Lopetegui. Both will see Sevilla reap rewards.
And that’s before we into other signings who are waiting their turn and before we discuss the savvy purchases of Chicharito and Fernando, who has been excellent at the base of midfield, allowing Jordán and Banega to play to their strengths. Both players are over 30, but play vital roles in keeping Sevilla’s good form going.
Sevilla signed 15 players this summer along with a free transfer and a couple of loans. Some won’t work out and it would be folly to suggest they will. But Monchi knows this. He just needs one or possibly two to succeed, and Sevilla will be able to reinvest and go again, constantly getting better, constantly changing but always improving.
In his first season back in Spain, it looks like Monchi has done it again.