If I told you at the beginning of the season that we’d be in the Europa League final, and that this would be the most important game of the season, I bet you’d take that. Sure, we started the season in the Champions League. But it was a tough draw, and although when we all predicted how we’d fare pretty much every commenter dreamed up a scenario that showed us either eliminating Juventus or Manchester City to advance, I don’t think anyone would’ve been surprised to be hear that our Champions campaign would end in the Europa. And getting to the final? Hell, that’s about as good as it gets for a team like us, and that’s pretty good!
And then, imagine if I’d told you about a Europa final early in the season as we were inexplicably sitting at the bottom of the Liga table (literally the bottom! Last place! Remember that?!?), and our CL campaign seemed dead before it even started. Sure, the highs of a Europa League title aren’t as high as the illustrious and dizzying heights of the Champions League, but I’d be willing to wager no team has seen the elevation change, from lowest lows to highest highs, that Sevilla has this season. Whether it’s been thinking nervously about league relegation while crashing out of the Champions League and then advancing to the final, or being damn near invincible away from home while being 100% vincible on the road, this season has been a hell of a ride.
Tomorrow will be Sevilla’s 5th Europa League final since 2006. They’ve never lost a final in this tournament. We’ve had to go to penalties to claim the cup, sure, but somehow Sevilla always finds a way to win. I joked on Twitter after we advanced past Athletic on penalties that I never doubted we’d win, and somehow…I don’t know–I really didn’t. This is probably just me taking Sevilla’s remarkable success in this tournament for granted, but there are times in the Europa League when things just feel sort of…inevitable. Maybe it’s the uncanny ability to respond to conceding goals by quickly scoring goals in tight elimination games. Maybe it’s winning two titles on penalties. Maybe it’s actually seeing us win a road game in this tournament–whatever it is, there’s just a sense that this tournament is special to this team, and maybe this team is special to this tournament. They play better, with greater purpose and with fewer mistakes–especially when the games and moments become more important. Sevilla loses to Barca in La Liga at the Camp Nou 5–0 and I’m not surprised, but make that a round of 16 tie in the Europa, and with Sevilla down 5 goals in the second half I’m just wondering when the comeback starts.
In a way, the stakes for second and third consecutive titles necessarily increase each time: now you’re playing for back-to-back titles, now the three-peat, and eventually I guess you’re talking about a dynasty. But at the same time, it feels like the stakes undergo something like diminishing returns with each successive final: the first title you’re proving that you belong. The second, you’re showing the first wasn’t a fluke. The third…I mean, you made the final again–I’m not sure how much winning or losing matters to the story of what Sevilla’s done in the last decade of this tournament.
And yet. The idea of seeing anyone else lift that trophy tomorrow is devastating. The idea of some English team, with their English (ugh, and American) fans celebrating the title is nauseating. If Sevilla can’t pull off a third consecutive European title tomorrow, I’ll have plenty of memories with which to console myself. But of course I don’t want to be thinking about that tomorrow. Tomorrow I want to be wondering how they’ll be celebrating in Sevilla. I want to be breaking the 1 key on my keyboard, filling up tweets and comments with exclamation points. I want to watch the Champions League final wondering which team we’ll play in August.
While Sevilla’s story this year is about adapting to losses from the year before, and about succeeding in spite of those losses, Liverpool’s story is about what they’ve done with what they’ve gained. If Liverpool were playing almost anyone else in the final, I’d probably end up cheering for them just because Klopp is such an irresistible figure, and he gets his teams (even an English team, even Liverpool) to play really thrilling stuff. It’s funny, though: Liverpool is as much a question mark as some of the Eastern European teams we sometimes face in this tournament. I don’t really like watching EPL teams, and as such I don’t really know much about these guys. I’m pretty sure Steve Gerrard isn’t playing for them any more, and I think they got Man City to pay even more than we did for a speedy winger type. I just looked at their Wikipedia page and I don’t really recognize a lot of these names. I assume a lot of them are celebrated for being starters on a team that’s located in England (as most English writers know, the only true sign of quality). I assume some of them are actually good. I assume they’ll give Sevilla a really good game tomorrow.
And yet…again, maybe this is just me taking success for granted, but if I’m honest, I also assume Sevilla will win tomorrow.