First half goals by Stephane Mbia and Carlos Bacca have put Sevilla firmly in the driving seat of their all-Spanish Europa League semi-final with Valencia.
It was an entertaining and for the most part evenly matched encounter at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, but that will be no consolation to the visitors who will need something special if they are to overturn this deficit next week.
The early stages of the match, while relatively open, passed with little incident as both teams showed plenty of positive intent but were unable to fashion a clear cut chance between them.
The first attempt of note came after 16 minutes, when a swift Valencia break ended with the ball at the feet of forward Paco Alcacer 20 yards from goal. He should arguably have passed to a teammate in acres of space on the right but opted to go for goal himself. His fiercely hit drive however was beaten away by home goalkeeper Beto diving away to his right.
Sevilla’s first real chance of the night came ten minutes later. Ivan Rakitic swung in a corner from the left which was met by Federico Fazio. The towering centre-back however could only glance a header wide when he really ought to have hit the target.
Unai Emery’s side did not have to wait much longer for the breakthrough though. Just after the half hour mark, another Rakitic set piece caused pandemonium in the Valencia box and found its way through to Stephane Mbia. The midfielder showed great composure to control the ball before audaciously back-heeling home from close range. There was a hint of controversy about the goal however as television replays showed that the Cameroonian was offside when the ball was flicked on to him by Daniel Carrico.
Things got even better for the home side as they doubled their lead minutes later. The visitors were left hopelessly exposed by a Rojiblancos counter, allowing Vitolo to feed Colombian striker Carlos Bacca. The 27-year-old’s finish did not disappoint as he arrowed the ball beyond the helpless Valencia keeper Vicente Guaita.
The match continued to be played at a high tempo as Valencia chased the game and Sevilla looked to counter. There was still time for Fazio to see another free header from a free-kick saved by Guaita just before the first half ended.
Pizzi was clearly not satisfied with what he had seen in the opening 45 minutes and he sent on Jose Gaya for Juan Bernat in time for the restart.
Valencia began the second period on top and Jeremy Mathieu sent a left-footed free-kick narrowly wide. They were however once again found wanting defending set pieces as Fazio yet again evaded his marker following a free-kick at the other end. Fortunately for Los Che, the Argentine was once again wasteful and headed straight at Guaita.
The visitors continued to look lively going forward though and on the hour mark Alcacer got across his marker to meet an inviting Eduardo Vargas cross, only for his left footed flick to fly over the bar.
They went even closer five minutes later. To the fury of Emery Sevilla carelessly gave the ball away in their own penalty area. The ball landed at the feet of Vargas, whose curled finished sailed inches wide of a stranded Beto’s left hand post.
The home side then had strong claims for a penalty turned down 12 minutes from time after Vitolo did extremely well to control and lay off a long ball to substitute Kevin Gemeiro. The Frenchman’s first time volley clearly struck the hand of Che defender Javi Fuego, but referee Damir Skomina was unmoved and waved play on.
Valencia continued to huff and puff and with five minutes remaining twice came close to scoring a priceless and probably deserved away goal. Firstly, substitute Jonas' snap shot was well kept out by Beto before Vargas struck the bar with a header from Pablo Piatti cross.
Emery brought on Vicente Iborra in the final minute to tighten things up but with his very first touch he almost scored a potentially decisive third goal. Rakitic sent in another devilish free-kick, which the defensive midfielder couldn’t quite keep down.
As it was, the Andalusians had to settle for a two goal lead and they will now be firm favourites to progress to the final heading into next Thursday’s second leg at the Mestalla.
The other semi-final first leg between Benfica and Juventus ended in a 2-1 victory for the hosts. Click here for a full match report on our sister site, Football Italia.
Sevilla 2 – 0 Valencia
Mbia 33 (S), Bacca 36 (S)
Sevilla: Beto; Diogo, Pareja, Fazio, Navarro; Carriço, Mbia; Reyes (Marin 59); Rakitic, Vitolo (Iborra 90); Bacca (Gameiro 73).
Valencia: Guaita; Joao, Javi Fuego, Mathieu, Bernat (Gaya 46); Keita, Parejo; Feghouli (Jonas 74), Vargas, Fede (Piatti 57); Alcácer.