Discards to play a key role in Europe

Sevilla's Stevan Jovetic (left) holds off Eibar's Gonzalo Escalante during their La Liga match on Saturday. The Montenegrin scored twice in his first two games for the Europa League winners, and his form will be a factor for Leicester City to take in
Sevilla's Stevan Jovetic (left) holds off Eibar's Gonzalo Escalante during their La Liga match on Saturday. The Montenegrin scored twice in his first two games for the Europa League winners, and his form will be a factor for Leicester City to take into account before the two sides meet on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Cast off by Premier League clubs, Falcao and Jovetic rediscover form to worry City, Foxes

LONDON • It is one of the more cruel cuts in the career span of the elite footballer. Being dropped may hurt, but the discarded player can soothe his dented pride with the thought that, seven days later, he might bounce back into the XI.

Omit a man from the list you submit to Uefa in September or February, and he seethes.

It has happened lately to several notables who hope to take a leading part in the knockout phase of the Champions League over the coming days.

They are players in renaissance, having exchanged the cold-shouldering of English Premier League employers for the nourishing sun in southern Europe.

Samir Nasri, of Sevilla, who host Leicester City on Wednesday, and Radamel Falcao, whose Monaco are at Manchester City tomorrow, might reflect that a year makes quite a difference.

Twelve months ago, Nasri, then still at City - who remain his parent club - was left out of the squad for the knockout phase of Uefa's principal competition.

His ongoing recovery from a hamstring injury partially explained the omission, though when he again failed to make the cut in August, the message seemed plain: at the City of Pep Guardiola, and of David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, creative midfielders take their place in a long queue.

Yaya Toure suffered the cut last September, though he is back on the Champions League roster now.

Meanwhile, the scars from February 2015 are still on Stevan Jovetic, the conspicuous exclusion from City's list for the Champions League knockouts that season.

He read very clearly the signal that his adventure in England was edging to a close.

As for Falcao, his discard moment came last February, when Chelsea left his name off their roster for the Champions League.

Six months into his year there on loan from Monaco, Chelsea decided that one of the most prolific scorers in Europe of the past decade was a faded, false impersonation of the Falcao of old, the predator par excellence of Porto, the ex-assassin of Atletico Madrid.

The bad news for City is that Falcao, who on Feb 10 celebrated his 31st birthday, is now far more reminiscent of the Iberian version than the ill-fitting bystander who spent two empty years of his career in English football, one at Manchester United and one at Chelsea.

Falcao captains Monaco, who are at the top of France's Ligue 1, and gives every impression of a man whose 24 months deprived of regular football has not only given way to an insatiable gluttony for goals but that the desire to make up for the lost seasons is contagious.

Monaco are the most prolific team across the leading leagues of Europe, and Falcao is a mere part of that. At two-thirds of their way through the domestic calendar, Monaco are maintaining an average of three goals per game.

Falcao has 21 goals so far in all competitions, his renaissance aided by the sort of consistent fitness he seldom experienced while in England, and helped by willing suppliers of the sort of pass he can exploit.

While Monaco threaten to interrupt PSG's annual procession to the championship of France, a thrilling challenge to the established hierarchy in Spain is mounted by Sevilla, a club as accomplished in negotiating European knockout ties as Leicester are unaccustomed to them.

Europa League champions in the past three seasons, Sevilla have upped their game under the coaching of Jorge Sampaoli, an Argentinian who joined last summer and has been delighted to welcome Nasri and Jovetic back to club football's elite competition.

"This team breathes when Nasri has the ball at his feet," said Sampaoli soon after Nasri began his loan arrangement from City last August.

Sevilla barely had time to catch breath after Jovetic's arrival last month, on loan from Inter Milan, where he had been for 18 months since leaving City.

The Montenegrin striker had hardly arrived in Andalucia than he had scored his first goal, against Real Madrid, in a see-saw 3-3 draw in the Copa del Rey.

That was just the aperitif. Three days later, he came on as a substitute against Real, the league leaders and then the owners of a 40-match unbeaten run.

Jovetic scored the winning goal in stoppage time.

He had been a Sevilla player for 67 minutes, and suddenly had as many goals in their colours as he managed for the whole of 2016 in Serie A for Inter.

His renaissance had started in a rush.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Discards to play a key role in Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe