Key Battles That Will Shape Valencia's Clash with Sevilla

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Valencia's Clash with Sevilla

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Sevilla make the return trip to the Mestalla on Thursday evening in the hopes that they can build on the 2-0 aggregate lead they established on home turf last week.

    With one foot in the entrance of Turin's Juventus Stadium, Unai Emery's side would be wise, however, to not let complacency ruin their semi-final second leg.

    In advance of what many are anticipating to be a heated, all-Spanish encounter, we take a look at some of those key battles that are likely to have the biggest impact on the fixture as a whole.

1. Jeremy Mathieu vs. Carlos Bacca

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    Miguel Angel Morenatti

    With Philippe Senderos still an injury doubt for Thursday's clash, Valencia's central defence has a touch of uncertainty about it as things stand, but Jeremy Mathieu is one man sure to be a part of it.

    And the Frenchman has perhaps the most difficult job of any defender in his side as he looks to take a leading hand in dealing with the threat of Carlos Bacca.

    Just a few minutes after Sevilla opened the scoring through Stephane Mbia's controversial goal last week, Bacca was on hand to convert a second, and while defence will be a massive priority in Emery's eyes, he'll be expecting his primary attacking outlet to apply some offensive pressure.

    Aerially, Mathieu will have to deal with Sevilla's lone man up front, but it's in the ground game that Bacca will feel he may have an edge over his marker.

2. Eduardo Vargas vs. Federico Fazio

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    Toni Rodriguez

    UEFA have rejected Valencia's appeal to have Paco Alcacer's yellow card rescinded after he was cautioned in the 2-0 defeat last Thursday, meaning Eduardo Vargas is the only surviving member of his team's attack from that loss.

    But if the task of breaking down Sevilla's defence was difficult last week, the absence of his more regular striking partner promises to make things all the tougher with Federico Fazio bearing down.

    Fazio has been an integral member of Los Nervionenses' improved defensive shape in 2014, and his contributions during the first leg were worthy of Man of the Match plaudits.

    The hosts may opt to field Jonas as a makeshift replacement for Alcacer, but there's a firm possibility Vargas will be holding the line as the only out-and-out striker in his line-up, a factor that could be lapped up by the imposing Fazio.

3. Sofiane Feghouli vs. Fernando Navarro

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    Philippos Christou

    There remains some discussion as to where exactly Sofiane Feghouli is best utilised for Valencia, but this season's pattern would suggest Juan Antonio Pizzi again plans on using his assets from the right wing.

    From that hub, it will be Sevilla left-back Fernando Navarro attempting to disrupt the Algerian's habit in producing moments of magic, a knack that Los Che are in desperate need of heading to the Mestalla.

    Feghouli's 36 touches in the first leg, per, was the joint-second lowest of any outfield player last week, which is an even more dire statistic when one considers the two below him in that pecking order were strikers Bacca and Alcacer.

    Should a more innovative and hands-on Feghouli come to the fore this week, Valencia have every chance of clawing back their two-goal deficit. Should he fail to recall his creative streak, another unmoving performance may await.

4. Seydou Keita vs. Ivan Rakitic

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Valencia have a number of options in defensive midfield, but after featuring as one of Valencia's brighter points in the reverse fixture, this week may see Emery again opt to field Seydou Keita in the anchored role.

    WhoScored show us that the Malian completed 90 percent of his passes and made two tackles in Seville, but Ivan Rakitic is also a fearsome outlet for the visiting Sevilla.

    The Croatian faces a difficult 90 minutes in terms of priorities, considering he has the potential to be both the spark that pushes Sevilla into grabbing a vital away goal, or the plug that shores things up in front of his own defence.

    However, presuming Rakitic perseveres in a more advanced, attacking midfield post, he can ignite Sevilla into sealing a goal that one would imagine will push them out of reach in the search for a berth in the final.

5. Dani Parejo vs. Stephane Mbia

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    As aforementioned, it was Mbia who got the scoring run rolling in Seville last week, and irrespective of how hotly debated that potentially offside finish may have been, the Cameroonian nonetheless finds himself on a hot streak of late.

    With three goals in his last four appearances across all competitions, Mbia may again hope to make the difference through his own means, but attention will undoubtedly once again turn toward restraining the opposition's creative weapons.

    Among those sits Dani Parejo, who despite taking more touches than any other player last Thursday (97), per WhoScored, was unable to really penetrate the Sevilla defence as was so needed by his side.

    When the need is so much greater, Parejo will have no choice but to push up and assert a more direct assault, but Mbia will be lurking in the hopes that such desperation will leave gaps susceptible to a counter from the visiting outfit.