Film Focus: Previewing Sevilla vs. Benfica UEFA Europa League Final

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

The end of any domestic season is always crowned by major cup competition finals, with European football's showpiece events coming in the form of the Champions League and the Europa League finals.

On Wednesday night, Sevilla of Spain and Benfica of Portugal contest the latter, with the match to be held in the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy.

Both clubs have reached the same final in recent years, with Benfica being defeated by Chelsea just last season, while Sevilla won twice consecutively in 2006 and 2007.

 

Approach to the Final

Sevilla topped a weak-looking Group H unbeaten, winning and drawing three times to finish top ahead of Slovan Liberec, Freiburg and Estoril.

They then beat Maribor 4-3 over two legs in the round of 32, beat fellow Spanish side Real Betis on penalties after a 2-2 aggregate draw in the next round, before knocking out FC Porto in the quarter-finals, 4-2 on aggregate.

Another Spanish side followed in the semis, as Sevilla knocked out Valencia on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

0 – Benfica are the only remaining unbeaten side in the 2013/14 Europa League. Answer

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 13, 2014

Benfica placed third in the Champions League Group C, behind PSG and Olympiacos, the latter only on account of their head-to-head record. As such, they dropped into the Europa League to face Greek side PAOK in the round of 32, winning 4-0 on aggregate.

A back-and-forth tie against Tottenham in the next round ended with an ultimately comfortable 5-3 aggregate win, before Dutch side AZ were dispatched in the quarters, 3-0 overall. Benfica then beat Juventus 2-1 on aggregate in the semis to reach the final.

 

Benfica's Brilliant Back Line

One of Benfica's main strengths this season, at home and abroad, has been their defence.

In winning the Portuguese Primeira Liga, Benfica conceded just 18 goals all season, with just six of those being conceded at home. They also went unbeaten all campaign at home, winning 12 and drawing three.

During Benfica's run to the Europa League final, they conceded just four times in their eight games, with two of those goals coming in the space of two crazy minutes against Tottenham in the round of 16.

Their regular back four of Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Ezequiel Garay and Guilherme Siqueira provides a fantastically physical barrier to goal for opponents to get past, is well-drilled in keeping a tight line but also contributes at the other end of the pitch.

The full-backs supply good support in the buildup as the side moves forward, getting relatively high up the pitch to allow the ball to be recycled, while the central defenders are a big threat from set pieces; Garay scored six in the league this season, while between them they netted five in Europe, too.

Midfield protector Enzo Perez, however, will miss out through suspension, as do attackers Salvio and Lazar Markovic.

 

Sevilla's Strength

Outside of the top three in Spain, the top scorers in La Liga are Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, both with 66 goals so far. Even so, it would be difficult to call them an all-out attacking side; they are reasonable all-round, though inconsistent and at times lacking in creativity.

5 – Sevilla have both scored (four) and conceded (five) the most goals in the final 15 minutes in the 2013/14 Europa League. Emotion.

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 13, 2014

Three key men, then, make up their best chance of success: attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitic and forwards Kevin Gameiro and Carlos Bacca.

With Bacca likely to start at centre-forward, Gameiro will either be asked to make an impact off the bench or else see Sevilla be bold with a two-man attack from the beginning. Rakitic, meanwhile, seeks to scheme and find space between midfield and defence, and it is he who will give Garay and Co. their biggest problems of the night.

The Croatian is adept at turning quickly in possession and either running straight at the defenders, forcing them into a decision, or else splitting a back line with passes for the forwards to run onto.

How the Benfica back line stay compact and prevent spaces for Bacca to run through, and Rakitic to pass through, could go an awfully long way in deciding the outcome of this Europa League final.

 

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