What's next for Sevilla after Tuesday's shock Champions League elimination?
When they reconvene at the training ground following their return trip from England, Sevilla's players and coaching staff may very well take a moment to stop and look at one another and wonder just how they contrived to eliminate themselves from this year's Champions League with a 2-0 defeat (3-2 on aggregate) at Leicester City on Tuesday.
Because while Leicester deserve plaudits for doing their thing, defending stoutly and taking full advantage of their opportunities when they arose, it was Sevilla who were the authors of their own downfall in the round-of-16 encounter, somehow losing a tie in which they had once held a comfortable two-goal advantage and in which they won and missed two penalties and thrice struck the woodwork over the course of the two legs.
Indeed, there were shades of Sevilla's previous two eliminations at this stage of the competition, at the hands of Fenerbahce in 2008 and CSKA Moscow in 2010. As on Tuesday, those were both losses against beatable opponents in which mistakes were made and advantages not taken. The last eight remains an elusive target for the Andalusian side.
The question now is what the defeat means for the rest of the season, as Sevilla's attempts at a comeback after going behind on Tuesday displayed the same lack of ideas and inspiration, perhaps even intensity, that has been apparent in other recent fixtures.
Between the first leg and the second, they recorded close and hard-fought victories over Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao followed by consecutive 1-1 draws against Alaves and Leganes. Prior wins over Las Palmas and particularly Eibar were not achieved through standout performances. Some might even argue that it is necessary to go back to the 4-0 thrashing of Real Sociedad in January to find Sevilla's last totally convincing display.
Jorge Sampaoli is a supremely energetic and passionate coach and his Sevilla side are very much capable of matching his zeal out on the pitch. But they are not a cavalier outfit sent out to play from the first whistle to the last at full tilt. They instead mix periods of intensity and aggressive pressing with spells of controlled possession. So physical fatigue shouldn't be a overly significant factor at this stage of the season.
If fatigue arose, it could have been of the mental variety from the assimilation of a new, positional attacking setup and style of play, and from being a side who seek to control possession and take the initiative in each and every match they play. If that is the case, in no player was that more evident on Tuesday than in Samir Nasri.
The France international had an early effort from inside the area parried behind and was involved in a few nice exchanges but was unable to wield a decisive influence on the match. His frustration showed as a first-half booking for kicking out at Wilfred Ndidi became red when he got involved in a needless spat with Vardy with a quarter hour still to play.
Steven N'Zonzi also looked a step or two off the pace for much of the encounter, and the French pair, so pivotal to Sevilla's strong season to date, are not the only ones who have faced some struggles in recent times. There was surprise in some quarters that Franco Vazquez wasn't involved on Tuesday but in truth his recent performances wouldn't have justified his inclusion. He, too, has suffered a downturn.
The key now for Sevilla is to pick themselves up quickly for a crunch match away to Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Defeat would see Atletico move to within two points of Sevilla in the table and put real pressure on their current position in the top three and the automatic passage to the group stage of next year's Champions League that it represents.
There can be no doubt that Sampaoli has made a highly positive impact in his first season at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Sevilla have already secured more points in the league than they did over the course of the entirety of last season and are still just three points behind Barcelona in second -- a huge achievement given the turnover of players and staff last summer.
But Sampaoli and his team will also know that it is essential to regain some momentum, find new solutions and push forward to ensure that the season doesn't end on a sour note. This has been a great campaign for Sevilla. They can't let an unnecessary Champions League elimination diminish that in their final two months.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.