The Ins and Outs of the Europa League Final: Sevilla vs. Liverpool!
Oh spring; what a wonderful time of the year you are. The weather becomes awesome, the days till Free Chill Zone Day at the Cumberland Farms creeps closer, punk rock songs sound better, baseball is going on…seriously there are just too many things to list. The one downside of spring however is the end of football. No, not the thing Roger Goodell is ruining, actual football. This past weekend the English Premier League wrapped up its magical season and most of the other top leagues around the world are doing the same, leaving us with only Major League Soccer until Euro 2016 begins in a few months. It’s a drag…until you remember that the two biggest tournament finals in European Football are happening over the next couple of weeks! Yes, thankfully there’s two more wonderful football games to be played before the one month lull leading into Euro 16; the always highly anticipated UEFA Champions League Final and the slightly less anticipated (but still important) UEFA Europa League Final. With the Champions League Final still a week or so out, tonight we’ll be previewing the Europa League Final, happening this Wednesday. Who’s in it your asking? Why we have two heavyweights from two of the biggest leagues in football; Sevilla F.C. from Spain’s La Liga and Liverpool F.C. from the English Premier League. And believe me, there’s a lot more at stake than the Europa League trophy. But we’ll get to that soon. Let’s start breaking this bad boy down!
Major Storyline: Can Sevilla win the Europa League for the third year in a row? Yes, as it turns out life is pretty good for Unai Emery’s club when they find themselves in Europe’s second most prestigious league. They won the Europa Championship in 2014 by beating Benfica in Penalty Kicks 4-2 and again last year by beating FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-2. Not too shabby. Here’s why the pressure will be on them this time around though; Sevilla is 7th in La Liga this year, a position that is both a) disappointing for the club and b) leaves them out in the cold when it comes to the Champions League and potentially the Europa League next season (a seventh place finish guarantees Sevilla qualification to the third qualifying round, but nothing else). So not only do Sevilla need this victory to be the Europa League kings again, they need it in order to ensure their spot in the higher leagues next season. I’ve seen volcano’s on the verge of erupting with less pressure that Emery and his club do.
Secondary Storyline: Does Jurgen Klopp complete Liverpool’s amazing turnaround? Hard to believe that back in October Liverpool was sacking Brandon Rodgers and looking more lost than Fivel after he arrived in America. Then the club brought in Klopp, the energetic/emotional dynamo who revitalized Borussia Dortmund, and things have been looking up ever since. This will be the German’s biggest test yet as Liverpool manager however; despite his arrival and a return to form, the club only managed to snag an 8th place finish in the Premier League, meaning they, much like Sevilla, need to win this game in order to secure a Champions League spot (and possible Europa spot if they’re bounced after the group stage). Hey Lev, the pressure’s climbing!
Third Storyline: Who remains undefeated in Europa League Finals games?! In seven combined appearances in the Finals both Sevilla and Liverpool have never lost; Sevilla has claimed four titles (the most in history) while Liverpool has won three (tied for second with Vinny Massaro’s Juventus and Internazionale). It’s a minor factor in a match with big stakes, but obviously one of the undefeated streaks has to end. Will Liverpool tie Sevilla with their fourth Europa League title? Or will Sevilla become the first club to go back to back to back AND win five Europa League Championships? Isn’t it a great thing that I picked “Under Pressure” as the song for this column? Almost as good as my decision to placate Vinny by mentioning Juventus so he doesn’t get on me for not doing that Juventus tribute yet!
Sevilla Player to Watch: Kevin Gameiro. Only one player for Sevilla had more than ten goals in all competitions; as you can guess, that was Gameiro here. The Frenchman was excellent for Sevilla, scoring 27 goals in 51 total appearances while adding 5 assists, arguably his best season of his career. He’s no stranger to these Europa Final games either, having come on as a substitute in last year’s victory and most notably scoring the winning Penalty Kick in the 2014 final. If I were to place my bets on a hero for Sevilla, it be this man.
Liverpool Player to Watch: James Milner. Unlike Sevilla Liverpool has no top tier goal scorer, instead spreading the wealth almost all around. Goals or not however, the Englishman Milner has been Liverpool’s most consistent player and leader, scoring 7 goals, appearing in 44 games (fourth most on the team behind Emre Chan, Nathaniel Clyne and keeper Simon Mignolet) and being named captain 23 times, tied for the most with Jordan Henderson. In many ways Milner has been the man who has made Liverpool tick, especially since Klopp arrived. He’ll have to be again here if the Reds want a shot at the trophy.
Sevilla will win if…: They play more like they did in the Knockout Stage and less like they did in the Group Stage. Seriously, the performance of Sevilla on the road to the Finals as opposed to their play in Group (and La Liga) is like night and day. In Group Stages Sevilla’s goal differential was a -3, leading to the club barely managing to sneak into the Knockout Stage. Since then they’ve been a different team, scoring 14 goals and having a goal differential of +6. I think it goes without saying that Knockout Sevilla gives this club a better chance to win than Group Stage Sevilla.
Liverpool will win if…: Simon Mignolet is their first/second best player besides Milner. I was actually prepared to say that Liverpool’s best bet to win would be to make this a track meet, especially considering the club’s most memorable win of this year was a 4-3 comeback win over Klopp’s former squad Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of the Europa League quarterfinals. As it turns out though the key to Liverpool’s success, from the Group Stage to the Knockout Stage, has been Mignolet, who has let in only 10 goals throughout the entire tournament and has truly only had one bad game (against Dortmund). With Sevilla finding their offense, the key will be Liverpool shutting it down and Mignolet will have even more pressure now that starting centerback Mamadou Sakho is suspended. Really it’s a one two punch for Liverpool; if Milner leads the offense and Mignolet stays steady in net than Liverpool is going to the Champions League.
Winner: Liverpool 2-1 in extra time. Maybe it’s my fondness to the Premier League or Klopp but I just have a feeling the Liverpool turnaround is going to be completed this Wednesday. Sevilla will play well and Gameiro will get a goal, but ultimately Mignolet will stand tall in net and Milner and the Liverpool offense will do enough to keep it level through 90 and then win the game in OT. Or is it ET? You never can tell with these football terms.
And with that Jack Evans can start the American version of the Liverpool victory parade. Or at least book his flight to Liverpool. As for me, I’m off till tomorrow where I’ll hopefully have enough info to do a Lucha Underground preview! Till then, in honor of the final episode of Castle, we close with a Nathan Fillion meme!