Valencia vs. Sevilla: 6 Things We Learned
Sevilla scraped through to the final of the 2014 Europa League on Thursday, despite going down 3-1 to Valencia at the Mestalla on the night.
The Andalusians arrived in Valencia with a 2-0 lead from the first leg of the semi-final tie but quickly found their advantage erased by Los Che, who put together a blistering first half to level the tie at 2-2 heading into the break.
The home side then appeared to grab a decisive lead when Jeremy Mathieu headed home in the 69th minute to give Valencia a 3-2 lead, but with just seconds remaining, Stephane M'Bia found the back of the net to grab the crucial away goal for Unai Emery's men.
Sevilla will now head to Turin for the competition's final against Benfica, who held on to their 2-1 lead over Juventus with a 0-0 draw in northern Italy.
Here are six things we learned from Thursday's thrilling encounter.
Sevilla Played into Valencia's Hands
After exposing Valencia's defensive frailties in the opening leg of the tie, Sevilla played right into the hands of Los Che at the Mestalla on Thursday night.
Looking to preserve the 2-0 lead that was built last week, Los Rojiblancos attempted to slow proceedings in an effort to push the crucial second leg toward an affair of attrition.
While the rationale for such an approach was obvious, the slower buildup from Sevilla prevented Unai Emery's side from threatening the dubious defensive organisation of the home team.
Thus, Valencia were able to stream forward in attack, safe in the knowledge that they could recover their shape if and when the ball was turned over. That was demonstrated by both Valencia full-backs inand relentlessly pushing forward to create overlap and two-on-one situations on both flanks.
With that added width, Sofiane Feghouli in particular was able to push into the tight spaces of the penalty area, which saw the
Joao Pereira Will Be an Attacking Weapon for Portugal at the World Cup
Watching Joao Pereira terrorise Fernando Navarro down the right-hand side in the early stages on Thursday night gave a clear indication into the threat the full-back will carry for Portugal at this year's World Cup.
With Sofiane Feghouli tucking in alongside Jonas and, Pereira scorched along the sideline in the opening 30 minutes, creating countless opportunities for Valencia against an under-siege Sevilla outfit.
When you consider that Cristiano Ronaldo will force opposing sides to consistently shuffle across the left to cover the prolific Real Madrid star, it's highly likely that Pereira will be left with an abundance of space down the right to provide added width and a dangerous outlet for Portugal.
Given both his pace and crossing ability, the 30-year-old could play a decisive role for his side in the sport's showpiece in Brazil.
Valencia Lacked Composure in Final 10 Minutes
When carrying a slim one-goal advantage heading into the final stages of a European semi-final tie, a team is expected to do everything in its power to bring the match to a grinding halt.
Throw-ins are normally forced. The ball is usually dribbled into the corner. Deliberate fouls are often conceded.
Yet, on Thursday night, Valencia abandoned such tactics, opting to push forward with pace and freedom in the search for a knockout blow.
Both Feghouli andruefully gave the ball away when deep in Sevilla's half, allowing the visitors to launch last-ditch counterattacks with space ahead of them.
Given the monumental effort put forward by Los Che, the team's lack of clear thinking in the final minutes was disappointing.
Alberto Moreno Was Missed in the Opening Half
Although Fernando Navarro completed a solid performance in the first leg of the semi-final tie against Valencia, the 31-year-old Spaniard became overwhelmed by the pace and regularity of the home side's attacks on Thursday night.
Pinned back by the pacy Valencia's attacking forays, Navarro was unable to push forward to provide regular assistance toand on the few occasions that the team did manage to pose a threat to Juan Antonio Pizzi's side in the opening half.
That changed when Alberto Moreno was brought on after the break to replace Navarro at left-back. The World Cup hopeful managed to quell a number of Los Che attacks in addition to surging forward to stretch the home side.
Given that he looks to be a strong chance to back up Jordi Alba for Spain at the World Cup in Brazil, it was somewhat surprising that the talented 21-year-old didn't start in this match. Sevilla desperately needed a full-back who was capable of providing an outlet on the counter, and he would have fit the bill.
Europa League Provides Indication into the Strength of Domestic Leagues
Not only does the Europa League provide a valuable opportunity for Europe's second-tier clubs, the competition also provides a fantastic insight into the strength and depth of the various domestic leagues on the continent.
On Thursday night, Valencia and Sevilla (two teams outside the Champions League qualification places in Spain) played out a riveting and high-class affair, with Sevilla going on to face Portuguese champions Benfica in the tournament's final after they overcame Serie A leaders Juventus on the same night.
Despite deep financial concerns surrounding both La Liga clubs, the paths of both Valencia and Sevilla to this point in the competition suggest that the regular questioning of the depth of the Spanish top division is somewhat misguided.
Regularly it is noted that Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid face little in the way of competition from lesser sides in Spain, but the presence of two Spanish clubs—and the absence of Tottenham—in the semi-finals of this season's Europa League serves as a reminder that the Premier League's perceived strength in depth is possibly overstated.
Sevilla Can Definitely Claim a Third European Crown
After claiming the Europa League title in consecutive years in 2006 and 2007 (then known as the UEFA Cup), Sevilla have a fantastic opportunity to add a third European crown to their tally.
Of course, the last-minute escape from defeat on Thursday is hardly the ideal way to head into a continental final, but Unai Emery's side has now been victorious in 14 of their last 18 matches—a run that includes a triumph over Real Madrid.
On such a hot stretch of form, Los Nervionenses will also be delighted that they're set to face Benfica rather than Juventus in the final in Turin, given the extreme difficulty that the Italians would have posed at home.
Benfica will still pose a significant obstacle for the Spanish outfit, but after such dramatic scenes in the closing stages of Thursday's encounter, Sevilla will carry a quiet confidence into the final, holding the belief that they possess the quality to capture the most decisive of moments.