Not so long ago, most of us avid Spanish football fans looked in confusion as Unai Emery had moved Vicente Iborra from his usual position in the centre of the park in central or defensive midfield into that of the traditional number ten role behind the striker; in the hole as some may say. Admittedly, some thought that Unai had finally lost it but in hindsight it honestly seems a pretty lucid conclusion after we can now see he had a much more natural choice in both the impressive young talent Denis Suarez and both a reclaimed and rejuvenated Ever Banega.
Yet we wouldn’t be saying anything scandalous in stating the truth that both of those players have the natural flair and skills that Iborra seemed to lack, but then again, as he has often proved over time, Unai continues to prove us wrong. Sevilla have recently recovered their best form with such a positional change and maybe recent circumstances are perhaps reminiscent of a certain Ivan Rakitic and what the coach did with him last season, moving the Croatian from a his usual central midfield role to a more attacking position in the centre of the park. This not only allowed Rakitic the space he needed for him to shine on his own, but freed the Croatian from his defensive duties and looks to have been a major factor in Rakitic’s fantastic form in the 2013/14 La Liga campaign.
And surely at that time, Unai had a much more obvious choice as Ivan was never the most physical player on the pitch and had always showed the capacity to create special moments that could make a fan stand up from their seats. Often so characteristic of a player in that position and often responsible for the elegance, magic and sparks; for being the different one.
But what was it that Emery saw in Iborra to not just simply make such a risky decision, but more importantly to stick with it? We may never know, but what we do know is how good this little experiment has turned out. What Iborra had previously lacked in flair, he had always compensated with an imposing physicality and work rate. But in principle, how does that (when faced with mostly defense-related duties) work for an attacking midfielder? Now we can say, in his case at least, it works with success.
Unai insists on an intense pressing game from the start of a match, with every player in the pitch focused two things. Firstly, when they don’t have the ball, to suffocate the opposition with an intent to recover the ball. Subsequently, when Emery’s side do have the ball, to then go forward with a real speed and intensity, as fast as possible with as many people as possible to try and score.
With Iborra positioned just off the striker, he will provide a real presence to the defender, having to take into account when taking the ball out and creating from the back. In addition to that, we have recently seen a massive boost with Iborra regarding the technical aspects in such an attacking position with two center midfielders guarding his back and the position of the attacking fullbacks; a structure that the coach has come to love.
After a wealth of impressive long distance shots after winning rebounds in the edge of the box, superb distribution, some decent breaks of speed when needed, Iborra’s work with his back to the goal and his intelligent use of his towering physique has helped him retain his spot as of late. Emery clearly has placed his trust in him, as have all his fellow team-mates and fans, which cannot be an easy task to accomplish due the demands and expectations of modern day football fans.
Therefore, how has he done it? Well, he’s proven himself with hard-work, sacrifice and adapting to the needs of the team. Even after that, Iborra has continued to work with such an intensity, non-stop, looking to be a part of that backbone Unai is trying to build, settle and improve over time in his Sevilla side. And with the success of late of Emery’s Sevilla and how impressively they’ve coped even with some of their biggest stars leaving the team, one can only recognise this coach’s work in order to keep his men motivated and with the aim of getting better by the day. You can see Unai has spread that electric enthusiasm and drive of his, throughout the Sevilla squad.
When you see the look in their eyes, the way they approach every game, not simply just the most important ones and when we acknowledge how Sevilla’s starting eleven frequently wear their heart on their sleeve, giving everything out on the pitch when they’re given the chance, it really is something quite special to behold. We are in the presence of a winning team; a group of individuals that have been trained effectively to not simply improve but just to be better, to win and not to settle for anything less. And it shows even more in this particular case – the curious case of Vicente Iborra or how to go from doing what some would perceive as ‘the dirty work’ to take on ever so masterfully the coveted number ten role for a new-look Sevilla.
Article written by: @ZizouRoulette