THE next instalment in a series where I watch a football team so you don’t have to. This time it is Liverpool’s Europa League Final opponents, Sevilla FC.
Sevilla have had a fairly eventful season, with a slightly disappointing seventh place in the table, eight points behind sixth place Celta Vigo, compensated for by two cup finals. They play Barcelona in the final of the Copa Del Ray this Sunday, having qualified for that final back in February.
Since then the focus has been very much the Europa League. Sevilla are masters at the tournament, of course. Winning the last two years and also winning back to back trophies in the mid 2000s. Often Sevilla has been seen as more of a shop window than a football club, with many of Europe’s top stars passing through Seville and enhancing both their reputation and the Sevilla coffers in the process.
So perhaps they just see the Europa League as a greater chance to shine? Or it could be a case of inevitable inconsistencies when fighting on different fronts. Either way, it be wrong to underestimate Sevilla based on the fact we have already beaten a side who finished three places above them in La Liga this season. Especially as they too knocked out fifth place Athletic Bilbao on their route to Basle.
They’ve got lads you’ve heard of, Sevilla. Perhaps the biggest name of all doesn’t always get a game. Fernando Llorente moved to Sevilla in the summer after three years in Juventus. However the 31-year-old, who has 23 caps for Spain, has been a bit disappointing in his return back to Spain, scoring just seven goals all season. He was an unused substitute in both legs of the Europa League semi-finals.
The reason he doesn’t play more is Kevin Gameiro, who is Sevilla’s top scorer this season, with 24 in all competitions. The next best for Sevilla has nine. He’s a lovely finisher, almost nonchalant with his right foot, and quick over 10 yards. He’s a battler too, and happy to play up top on his own. The French striker has scored goals wherever he has been, but is flying this season and will be a massive threat.
Who else will you have heard of? Well, José Antonio Reyes, formerly of Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, is there but he’s injured at the moment after undergoing appendix surgery, and it looks unlikely he will make it back in time. They’ll also be missing Michael Krohn-Dehli in attacking midfield after he was injured in the semi-final against Shakhtar Donetsk. The Dane has had a good first season at Sevilla and his experience will be missed.
Therefore behind Gameiro will be Yevhen Konoplyanka, who will kick himself forever he didn’t sign for Liverpool in January 2014 and Ever Banega, who will thank the gods forever he didn’t sign for Everton in August 2009. The Ukranian Konoplyanka picked up a knock recently, but started at the weekend and will be fine to play. The Argentinian Banega was man of the match in last year’s final and seems to have a great relationship with manager Unai Emery, who also had him at Valencia. Banega, who glides across the pitch, leaves in the summer to join Inter Milan, but he’ll be wanting to turn it on on the big stage regardless.
The third attacking midfield spot is a bit more up for grabs, but I suspect it will be Vitolo who played in both legs of the semi-final and is the only current Sevilla player to start in the 2014 and 2015 final wins. However, Sid Lowe thinks it will be Coke, who is more of a right back, but is often pushed forward. And who am I to argue with him?
Behind them is the very solid duo of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Steven N’Zonzi. Polish international Krychowiak has had a great year, he’s the highest ranked Sevilla player on Whoscored.com, and attracts plenty of interest. N’Zonzi is suspended from the Copa Del Ray final, so will want to put everything into this game. He has some pretty decent memories from his last game against Liverpool, too…
Behind them they have some issues with injuries too. Benoît Trémoulinas usually plays left back, but is out with a knee problem picked up against Shakhtar. It seems to me that Escudero comes in, as he did in the semi-final after the injury, as a natural swap. However there is some talk that left-footed centre half Kolodziejczak, who is in a bit of trouble with his domestic FA for calling the linesman a “son of a bitch” at the weekend, will move over instead.
At centre half, Adil Rami was one of the few who was picked at the weekend, which perhaps shows both his value to the team and a slight shortage of bodies. In both semi-finals he was partnered by Daniel Carrico, who oddly played for Reading for a bit, with the Brazilian Mariano to their right.
In goal there is the current Spanish vogue of a European keeper. Sergio Rico wears the number one jersey and has played more league games than any other Sevilla player, yet it is David Soria – who hasn’t played a minute of league football all year – who plays in Europe, and will presumably keep the shirt.
Sevilla have lost their last three in the league, but with heavy rotation and minds on other things, I decided not to watch those games. Instead I watched the first leg of the semi-final against Shakhtar from April 28, as I think they will approach the game in a similar way, and the team that night was the one I expect to see in Basle.
Shaktar aren’t allowed to play in their home ground because of troubles in Ukraine, but it is still a big crowd and an intimidating scene for a team that, amazingly, failed to win a single league game away from home all season. However, Sevilla start brightly and confidently. Mariano is right up the pitch from full back straight away, furthest man up the pitch from one fast break early on, and whenever they lose it they are keen to win it straight back. Adil Rami dominates aerially.
When they have it, the ball is completely on the deck and they try and work it to teammates no matter what the position or pressure. They are well drilled and difficult to break through, with attacking midfielders working right back when necessary. They are 1-0 up after five minutes. The move shows how quickly they can move the ball forward and how good Gameiro is with his back to goal. Gameiro slides in the advancing Vitolo, who is coolness personified in the finish.
Sevilla continue to look confident, passing it around freely and pressing hard when necessary. It’s 15 minutes in and I’m wondering how Sevilla end up at half time 2-1 down. The equaliser comes after a good five from Shakhtar, but also a touch out of nothing. A straight ball finds Marlos in an extraordinary amount of space and he finishes. Perhaps it is a sign of a defence that hasn’t played together too often, but it is surprisingly easy stuff from a team who didn’t look like giving anything away. The run from wide is a decent one, but it does suggest a lack of communication at the back that Liverpool might exploit.
Now Shakhtar are flying and Sevilla look a little strained. Escudero gets booked for a late desperate tackle, as Shakhtar attack with pace from all sides. Something, unfortunately, that Liverpool don’t have a great deal of. Sevilla are mostly defending as the half progresses, but they do try and break when they can. Vitolo does the worst dive you have ever seen. When they get set they almost defend with six, as both defensive midfielders drop in to become extra centre halves on crosses, while the attacking midfielders scurry around ahead of them. It’s tough to break down.
But a second comes for Shakhtar through a great cross and header. Sevilla have men back but they seem to switch off again and N’Zonzi is the culprit. Shahktar go into half time 2-1 up.
It’s to Sevilla’s credit that they stay in the game second half and gradually find a way back in. Shakhtar don’t seem to know how hard to go, and that benefits Sevilla, who gradually see more of the game and eventually the chances. Caricco and substitute Dehli both have decent efforts, although Dehli soon had to go off injured, which was a shame as he looked lively. Sevilla have a goal wrongly ruled out for offside on 75 when Gameiro, who was getting into the game more by this stage, moved brilliantly off his man to fire in from close range. Vitolo then had one off the line.
Their luck changes soon after though, with Vitolo winning a penalty again from minimal contact, albeit from an unnecessary challenge. Gameiro slots with no fuss. Sevilla could have settled for a draw, but they actually looked to go on and win it, and could have through Banega, whose shot is blocked. It’s a very impressive second half, considering how the first ended.
So what did I learn? Well, Sevilla are a good team. They pass it well, they work hard and they have great spirit. They won’t lie down at any point, Liverpool will have to win the game, and might even have to win it again if they take their foot off. Sevilla remind me a bit of Arsenal in that when they are playing well, they make it look like the easiest game in the world and you wonder how you might get on top. However, just like Arsenal, when you do get on top you feel like you can hurt them. When the momentum swung away from them, they conceded. But unlike Arsenal, you perhaps unfairly feel, they have the drive to come back.
Sevilla have a wonderful striker and players behind who will look to hit him. They play it all on the deck, but that includes playing in tight spaces which will have Lallana and co licking their lips. They defend well individually, but did allow chances when it seemed unclear who was doing what. It’ll be tough for Liverpool; to be honest they are better than I thought they would be. Sevilla could dominate the ball in midfield with numbers and strength, as the attacking players are more than willing to drop in and muck in.
Press well and look to hit them before they get set. Remain patient when they are set and trust our combinations and attacking quality in forcing a defensive error. Don’t give Gamerio any space. Track Mariano and hope to hit the space he leaves behind. Kick Banega a couple of times. Stay well clear of Vitolo in the box. Concentrate. Ride out their pressure and make the most of ours.
Bring the cup back, Liverpool. Pretty please.