There are four European semi-finals ties this week and three of them are taking place in Spain. Suffice to say the European football calendar has a distinctly Spanish feel this year.
While both the Madrid clubs took on Europe’s elite earlier in the week, on Thursday all eyes shift to Seville, where Spain’s other clubs attempt to write their own European fairy tales. It may not be quite as enthralling as Real Madrid’s hunt for La Decima but for Sevilla and Valencia, Europa League success is paramount.
It’s been a similar story for both teams this year – A bad start followed by an impressive recovery. Sevilla in particular have been astonishing as of late, winning nine out of their last 10 in La Liga and 12 out of 15 overall, two of those losses coming in first-leg ties they would overturn anyway. They are now nipping at the heels of Athletic Bilbao for the coveted fourth and final Champions League spot next season.
Valencia underwent a bit of a revival as well after the appointment of Juan Antonio Pizzi, though they’ve struggled with inconsistency in recent weeks. Languishing in eighth place and seemingly stuck in purgatory, too far away to realistically climb the table but unlikely to drop any lower at this point, they’ll be solely focused on their European exploits.
The long protracted takeover process has been exhausting but on the pitch Europa League success could be the catapult the club needs to rise from the doldrums of mediocrity in which they’ve been mired for much of the last few years.
The similarities don’t stop there. In the quarter-finals both teams were able to recover after disastrous first-leg results. Sevilla were left nursing a narrow 1-0 defeat to Porto and without away goals it seemed to be an uphill task. Valencia on the other hand were left for dead after losing 3-0 in Switzerland to Basel.
Yet both teams showed somewhat surprising resilience in the return legs in Spain and will be buoyed by their high-scoring efforts to overturn in overturning the deficits.
Against Porto Sevilla were rampant and could have won by even more if their finishing was up to par early on. Still, their 4-1 victory against the Portuguese giants was swift and decisive. Truthfully, they played Porto off the park.
But Valencia were even better, overturning a 3-1 reverse and winning 5-0 after extra-time against the Swiss champions in front of a delirious Mestalla crowd. A Paco Alcacer hat-trick was the highlight of the tie.
Sevilla have been lead all season by their magnificent captain Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic and forward Colombian forward Carlos Bacca. The sparking duo have combined for 26 goals in La Liga thus far.
Valencia on the other are more reliant on the overall team effort. Though they boast stars like Algeria’s Sofiane Feghouli, its their young Spanish contingent of Fede Cartabia, Paco Alcacer and Juan Bernat who have garnered the headlines recently.
Sevilla Coach Unai Emery spent four years at Valencia and took Los Che to the Europa League quarter-final only a few years ago. But with a place in the final at stake this tie promises to be a fine advertisement for La Liga. Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan awaits.