Key Battles That Will Shape Benfica vs. Sevilla in the Europa League Final

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Benfica vs. Sevilla in the Europa League Final

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    The Europa League final on Wednesday in Turin will be no doubt be an interesting affair, as Benfica face Sevilla.

    They have two quite different football philosophies and it means that several individual battles are likely to crop up across the pitch.

    We've selected four of the key clashes which could swing the trophy one way or the other.

    From Croatian king Ivan Rakitic to Benfica's wily old striker Oscar Cardozo, these are the main issues ahead of the final.

Ivan Rakitic vs. Benfica's Defensive Unit

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    With Benfica's Enzo Perez suspended for the final after being sent off against Juventus, the onus is on Sevilla's Ivan Rakitic to dominate the midfield.

    He has had a truly excellent season for the Andalusian club and this is a great opportunity to demonstrate his worth on a big stage.

    On Monday he was speaking to Kicker and (h/t Inside Spanish Football) hinted that he wanted a move to a bigger team next season.

    He said:

    My life changed permanently when I came here. I’ve grown, I’ve become a father, I’ve experienced wonderful things. The Rakitic now has very little in common with the one before. Real Madrid? We should wait for this Europa League final, also for the World Cup final, then we’ll see. This year we have taken a great step forward, but it’s the great goal for every player to play in the Champions League.

    The playmaker can prove it on Wednesday night if he makes the difference against Benfica's weakened core.

Oscar Cardozo or Rodrigo Lima vs. Sevilla's Stopper

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    This one is up in the air.

    Benfica coach Jorge Jesus could start either Oscar Cardozo or Rodrigo Lima up front.

    The former is far more experienced and has scored the most European goals of any player remaining in the tournament, with 33 in 75 games.

    But Lima is the club's top scorer in Europe this season, netting four in the Europa League and one in the Champions League group stage.

    It's also uncertain which goalkeeper they will be facing.

    Beto was recently dropped for Javi Varas but Sevilla could revert for the final.

    They are likely to be under fire, with Benfica favourites to win the final and take the trophy home.

Kevin Gameiro or Carlos Bacca vs. Luisao and Ezequiel Garay

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    If Kevin Gameiro is fit then Unai Emery is likely to ask him to lead the line for Sevilla.

    He is up against a strong centre-back partnership in Luisao and Ezequiel Garay.

    Gameiro is in good form, with seven goals in his last eight games.

    But Benfica's defence has been sturdy, too.

    In the last 11 games in the Liga and also in the Europa League, they have only shipped four goals.

    Two of them came away against rivals Porto at the weekend, when they played a weakened team as they have already won the title.

    Gameiro told

    It's a one-off game and anything is possible. The most important thing is to give everything and not regret anything at the end – to give everything, to be 100% fit and then see what happens.

    If he works hard up front then he may earn a couple of chances against the rugged defenders.
    Then Gameiro must be clinical.

    However, if he misses out on the game because of a problem with his right knee, then Carlos Bacca will be the man for the job.

    The Colombian has also had a good season but is in less impressive form lately, only notching twice in his past 10 games.

    A boost for Sevilla is that Garay has missed a couple of games because of an injury sustained in the semi-final.

    It is unknown whether he will return in time to face the Spanish side or not. 

Stephane Mbia vs. Nicolas Gaitan

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    Sevilla's defensive midfield Stephane Mbia, on loan from Queens Park Rangers, was the hero in the semi-final against Valencia.

    He popped up with a late goal to help his team sneak into the final.

    Mbia could be just as important on Wednesday night, albeit probably not in such a dramatic way.

    He is likely to be the man tasked with shackling Nicolas Gaitan, who will take up some of the side's attacking burden.

    With Eduardo Salvio and Lazar Markovic banned, he will have to offer the creativity behind the forward.

    Mbia will be looking to shut him down and shield his back four.

    If Benfica stick to their usual attacking style and Sevilla maintain their defensive, counter-attacking play, then Mbia will be performing a key role for Emery's side.

    Had Benfica still had Nemanja Matic, who moved to Chelsea in January, it might have been a different story.

    But as it is, Mbia has the attributes to run the game in the middle.