First of all, apologies for the lateness of this report. Last night was obviously a late finish (ouch, my head!!), and today consisted of a full day teaching English whilst winding up my Betico students. Business as usual it would seem, both on and off the park. The reality being that Sevilla FC, so synonymous with the Europa League that is almost seems quite normal to be participating in it again, now have an opportunity to go for La Quinta (The Fifth), and why not??
My report for the game will hopefully be brief, as for one I have to get up for work early tomorrow, and also I am sure that by now the game has been watched a million times by Sevillistas around the globe. However, my initial impressions from row 003 of Tribuna Fondo were as follows:
Overall, Juventus looked very dangerous on the break, but also seemed happy to sit back and let us come at them (much like Man City did when they played in the RSP). It was actually quite funny to watch as they mirrored Emery’s old ‘drop deep and pass out from the goal keeper in order to stretch the opposition’ tactic. Apparently, as someone recently pointed out, Brendan Rodgers was also a fan of this approach for Liverpool. Anyways, we obviously didn’t fall for it, kept things tight (relatively speaking) and so this meant that the first half was a rather dull affair since no team were willing to press the ball. This resulted in a lot of possession football with very few forced errors, but nevertheless chances were still created. Both keepers had to be on alert to make vital saves, and Juventus even had a golden chance that Morata somehow contrived to put wide of the goal when it seemed easier to score.
The ire of the home support at half time was that we didn’t attack enough, with N’Zonzi being cursed the most for his sideway or back passing, closely followed by Llorente, who offered very little movement and meant that the play was quite static. Coke was being cursed too, as he seemed woefully out of his depth in both an attacking and defensive sense. It was not fair to blame these players however, as the whole team found it tough to break down a Juventus team that was on par with Barcelona, Atletico/Real Madrid and Man City in terms of defensive quality and attacking threat. For me it seemed that Emery had learned from all of those games, and was happy for us to conserve our energy, and go in at half time still in the game. And that is exactly what we did.
Half time: Sevilla 0 Juventus 0
With Manchester City losing 1-2 to BMG at home, the evening, and subsequent hopes of competing in Europe, did not look promising for those of a Sevilla persuasion, and so the second half started to muted enthusiasm from the home crowd. The players however lifted the mood with an attacking display that was a visible step up from the first half. Even Llorente was closing down the ball and tracking back into defence when required. With energy levels lifted both on and off the pitch, the collective mood was that we could really do this. All we needed was both results to go for us… It was not only in our hands at this stage.
The chances came and went. Banega tested Buffon with a long distance drive, and Juventus’ colossal midfielder Paul Pogba had a long range effort turned wide by Sergio Rico. There was a genuine feeling from both sets of fans that this game was definitely not going to end 0-0. And how correct we all were.
The subsequent cataclysm of events all started with around 25 minutes to go. After lashing a few shots wide of goal, persistent wing play by Konoplyanka (who with all due respect had a game to forget) resulted in Juventus conceding another corner. This time the Ukrainian whipped in a delicious ball which was expertly headed home by talismanic striker Fernando Llorente. As the net bulged, the stadium erupted, and belief was well and truly restored.
Despite having a rather non eventful first half, it has to be said that only one player on the park had had the awareness and ability to turn such a cross net bound, and it was him! Say what you like about him, but many fans were left eating their half time words as Llorente grabbed another important goal for Sevilla. All the more sweeter for Llorente as goalkeeping legend and ex-team mate Gigi Buffon could only watch on as the ball looped up and over his gaze.
Sevilla 1 Juventus 0 (Llorente, 65 mins)
A few subs broke up the momentum of a quick Juve strike back, but also added a new threat to our attacking line. Gameiro replaced the goal hero Llorente (who Juve fans gracefully applauded off the field), and it almost immediately paid off as the speedy Frenchman totally done the Juve defence for pace before hitting his shot wide of Buffon’s goal.
Then, just as Juve pressed hard for an equaliser, the hugely impressive (and probably Barca bound) Dybala’s long range strike cannoning off the cross bar, news broke of a very important goal about 1,000 miles away. Many supporters had live radio on their earphones, and word quickly spread of Man City’s equaliser. The fans slowly started to celebrate. This meant, that as things stood, Sevilla would still be in Europe in 2016. The electronic score board was a little slower to catch up, but when the official confirmation came through, the stadium celebrated like it was a goal of our own. It was a unique experience for me, and one I will never forget.
This new found energy seemed to spur the team on, we almost added a 2nd, Coke ruled out for offside and Banega picking up a loose ball in the box when a goal seemed certain. We tried to run the clock down, and despite a couple of late scares we held on for the three points and Europa League qualification! The fans were ecstatic, we were still in Europe, and we just beat last years CL runners up to boot.
Full time: Sevilla 1 Juventus 0
Let no-one tell you we would have been happier concentrating on the league this season. The cups mean a lot to Sevillistas, and represent the only real chance of silverware for a club of this size. To beat the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid to the league is quite frankly an unrealistic dream, so why not put our energy into trophies like the Europa and the Copa del Rey?
Man of the match has to be a close run battle between Banega and Rico. Rico’s saves were as good as goals at the other end, but Banega absolutely dominated the midfield, and was an absolute joy to watch. Who do you think deserved it?
And a big shout of to Fernando Llorente for scoring the winning goal, and for generally looking more like a footballer in the second half. Emery has a dilemma between him and Gameiro for first choice striker, and I guess it will depend on a game to game basis depending on what we need. Gameiro certainly offers more of a threat on the ground, has much more pace, and with it the ability to drag defensive players around more. However, Llorente has the ability to pop up with a perfect header at just the right moment (Juve and Madrid for example), and has showed he is no slouch by tracking back in the second period last night.
Although neither player really convinces as a 90 minute man, competition for a starting role is a good battle to have, but one wonders where Immobile will feature in all of this. He certainly bridges the gap between Gameiro and Llorente in terms of skill set, but is still without the specific main attributes of either. The Iago Aspas comparisons will roll on it would seem. I am sure we are all in agreement with that fact that, regardless of who Emery chooses up front, we simply MUST keep Ever Banega fit and playing if we are to challenge for any silverware this season. Word is Juventus and Napoli want his services, but they can jog on as far as I am concerned. He is our main man, and hopefully he will be around for many more successful years to come.
So, three more league games to come (one being Betis away) before the end of an incredible 2015, not to mention a potentially tasty Europa League draw to whet the appetite for the new year to come.
Once again, thanks for reading
¡Vamos mi Sevilla!