BARCELONA (Reuters) - Embattled Leicester City turn their attentions to the one competition they have had success in during a nightmarish season for the English champions when they visit high-flying Sevilla on Wednesday for their Champions League last 16 first leg.
Europe’s elite competition has been a welcome distraction for Claudio Ranieri’s side, which has come crashing back down to earth after last year’s logic-defying title win but keeps defying the odds in Europe.
Leicester finished top of their group and conceded just one goal in their first five games, and a brief escape is just what they need as their domestic woes show no sign of easing.
A winless start to 2017 in the league has left the club one point and a single place above the drop zone, and in danger of becoming the first team since Manchester City in 1938 to be relegated the season after winning the English championship.
On Saturday they endured an embarrassing exit from the FA Cup at the hands of League One side Millwall despite playing most of the second half with an extra man.
They will get little respite from from a transformed Sevilla side, however, which is enjoying its most exciting season in a decade as it chases Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga and mounts a serious challenge in the Champions League after winning the Europa League three times in a row.
Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli has brought a new speed and intensity to the Andalusian side’s possession play that yielded its biggest ever points total in the first half of a season.
“He has very specific ideas that he has implanted in our heads and we have responded really well to them,” midfielder Pablo Sarabia told newspaper Estadio Deportivo.
“We’re getting really good results too which is vital when you change your idea of how to play.”
Sevilla lost a number of top players last summer last summer, including losing top scorer Kevin Gameiro and midfielders Grzegorz Krychowiak and Ever Banega.
Yet smart work by sporting director Monchi has helped them shrug off those high profile departures and build a dynamic squad around two former Premier League players, former Stoke City midfielder Steven Nzonzi and playmaker Samir Nasri.
Stevan Jovetic has given them an extra lift in attack since joining on loan from Inter Milan last month and created both goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Eibar which kept them on the heels of league leaders Real and second-placed Barcelona.
Sevilla’s explosive form contrasts with Leicester’s seemingly endless troubles, although Sarabia warned against his side thinking Wednesday’s game would be a cake walk.
He added: “Leicester are having difficulties in the league and we are in much better form, but we have to prove that on the pitch and unless we give 100 percent any team could cause us problems.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Richard Lough