Sevilla title challenge "a reality", says coach Sampaoli
Reuters, Tuesday 24 Jan 2017

Sevilla have serious aspirations to win La Liga for the first time since 1946 after gate-crashing the usual two-horse race between Real Madrid and Barcelona, their coach Jorge Sampaoli said on Tuesday.

Sevilla are second in the standings, one point ahead of champions Barca and one behind Real Madrid, who they beat this month to become the first team to topple Zinedine Zidane's side since last April.

Real have a game in hand on both their title rivals.

Argentine Sampaoli has proved a roaring success at Sevilla since taking over from triple Europa League winner Unai Emery last year although up to now he has been cautious about his team's title hopes.

But after securing their biggest ever points total in the first half of a season following Sunday's 3-2 win at Osasuna, a fifth straight league victory, the coach said he was deadly serious about the title tilt.

"We're not being deluded, it's a reality, we're going to fight for the title. We may not have the strength in the end and we may not be capable of doing it but we're going to fight for it," Sampaoli told radio station Onda Cero.

"Our hope is to take an extra step forward. We have managed to instill an idea of play which the players like and enjoy, the idea of playing the same way against every team, always taking the initiative, and our aim is to be even stronger in the second half of the season."

Sampaoli had no playing career and earned his reputation as a coach in Peru, Ecuador and Chile before taking charge of the Chile national team in 2012, leading them to the Copa America, their first major trophy, in 2015.

He took his first foray into European soccer last year to succeed Emery, who had been head-hunted by Paris St Germain after leading Sevilla to an unprecedented three Europa League triumphs in a row.

"He told us that winning three Europa Leagues was good but we had to aspire for more and he wanted to do even better than that here," club President Jose Castro said.

"He gave us a real sense of hope, he told us we had to aspire for the top spots in the league and said we had all the tools to achieve that. And that's what's happening right now."

Atletico Madrid were the last team to break Real Madrid and Barcelona's stranglehold on La Liga when they won the title in 2014. The last team before them to win the league outside Spain's two most successful clubs were Valencia in 2004.

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