SEVILLE (Reuters) - Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli proved the ‘master of substitutions’ once again on Saturday with a key switch that not only earned his side a come-from-behind win over Real Betis but boosted his reputation as one of the most wanted coaches in Europe.
Sampaoli’s stock has risen sharply this season with Sevilla on track for their best league finish in eight years and on course to reach the Champions League quarters for the first time after their win over Leicester City in the last 16 first leg.
Admiration for Sampaoli is reported to extend to Barcelona, where he is thought to be one of the leading candidates to take over next season if Luis Enrique does not renew his contract.
The Argentine has also been touted in British media as a possible successor to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
Sampaoli, who took Chile to the 2015 Copa America title, pulled another rabbit out of the hat on Saturday as his side limped in at half-time 1-0 down to local rivals Betis, who were 25 points behind them in La Liga coming into the game.
Sevilla had barely troubled their opponents in the first half at a hostile Benito Villamarin stadium but that all changed when Sampaoli replaced Franco Vazquez and Pablo Sarabia with Vicente Iborra and Wissam Ben Yedder.
Iborra immediately gave Sevilla more presence in midfield and after his 56th minute header was parried by goalie Antonio Adan, Gabriel Mercado scored on the rebound to tie it at 1-1.
The winner came through Iborra’s strike 20 minutes later, and his goal was the 14th by a Sevilla player coming off the bench this season, making Sampaoli the leader in impact substitutions in Spain’s top flight.
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is second with 11 goals from substitutes, while Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane has eight.
‘LIVE IN THE MOMENT’
Sampaoli’s substitutes have helped Sevilla to three wins from losing positions in 2017, with Stevan Jovetic coming on to hit the winner in the 2-1 win over Real Madrid in January and Pablo Sarabia scoring in a 4-3 success at Osasuna.
Joaquin Correa grabbed the only goal off the bench in a 1-0 victory at Las Palmas in February, and Vitolo sealed a 2-0 win over Eibar in the previous outing before the derby with Betis.
Midfielder Pablo Sarabia said Sampaoli’s methods on the training ground were paying off.
“He has very specific ideas that he has implanted in our heads and we have responded really well to them,” Sarabia told the Estadio Deportivo newspaper.
“We’re getting really good results too which is vital when you change your idea of how to play.”
Despite undergoing their usual squad overhaul in the summer and losing influential figures such as top scorer Kevin Gameiro, Sevilla are third in the La Liga standings, three points behind leaders Real Madrid and two off Barcelona.
Amid rampant speculation about his future, Sampaoli has been trying to avoid taking his eye off the present.
“I‘m pleased that the club want to renew my contract but I only want to live in the moment so it’s difficult to think about the future when the present is so exciting,” he said last week.
“We have the chance to be among the best eight teams in Europe and that’s more important than the future.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford