They’ve done it again. For the fifth time in 10 years and the third year in succession, Sevilla FC are UEFA Europa League champions – and the cup specialists could still win a third Copa del Rey in the same golden period when they face Barcelona on Sunday.
The reward of Champion’s League qualification for the Europa League winners has breathed new life into Europe’s second string competition – certainly more than the name change and league format ‘revamps’ ever could. But the fact Unai Emery’s side were even able to defend their crown still leaves me scratching my head.
You may think a place in the Champions League and the guaranteed €12 million that comes with it would be reward enough for a successful domestic campaign. The second chance ‘parachuting’ of eliminated third placed teams into the Europa League knockout stages seems counter-intuitive and designed only to pad out an overly-diluted competition with some big names.
Not to take anything away from Sevilla’s achievements, though. Yes, the Andalusians were one of the eight Champions League ‘lucky losers’, but their comeback 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Basel makes them the first side to win three consecutive UEFA or Europa titles. Previously only two teams had successfully defended their titles – Real Madrid in the late eighties and Sevilla themselves in 2007.
So how have they managed this unprecedented achievement? While they’re not one of Spain’s current big three, their consistently steady La Liga form has seen them qualify for Europe in all but one season since 2004 – including nine appearances in the UEFA Cup and Europa League in the last dozen seasons.
Perhaps surprisingly for a successful side, Sevilla’s away form this season has been poor – failing to win a single game away from home in the Primera Division all season. They managed Nine draws and ten defeats away from their Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium and just one away win in seven European away games. They have, however, won three of four away games in the Copa del Rey.
Best known as one of Europe’s hottest cities, the football club’s home form has been too hot to handle for most visiting teams this season, with 14 home wins from 19 in the league, four out of four in the cup without conceding and five wins from seven matches in European competition.
It helps when you have a near perfect penalty shootout record too. Sevilla needed spot kicks to see off compatriots Athletic Bilbao and progress to the semi-finals of this year’s tournament, scoring five from five. In 2014’s winning campaign they relied on penalties twice, against local rivals Real Betis and then again against Benfica in the final, converting eight from nine in total.
In the 2007 UEFA Cup final, Juande Ramos’s Sevilla beat Espanyol on penalties, only needing to score three from four with goalkeeper Andres Palop famously saving three of their opponent’s four kicks.
Which brings me nicely to perhaps the most important thing you need if you’re going to be successful in Europe – the ability to beat Spanish sides in the latter stages. Sevilla have beaten six of their compatriots on the way to their last four UEFA Cup/Europa League triumphs so it’s fair to say they’ve done it the hard way.
As evidenced again this year in boasting three Champions League semi-finalists and two Europa League finalists, it seems that when it comes to Spanish sides in European competition – it takes one to beat one. Thanks in no small part to Sevilla, we will have a third successive clean sweep of Spanish Europa League and Champions League winners again in 2016.
Whether you see penalty shootouts as lotteries or not, Sevilla certainly have the winning ticket and regularly receive financial windfalls from selling their top players – making their winning streak all the more impressive. In the recent past, they’ve lost stars like Rakitic to Real Madrid, Vidal and Adriano to Barcelona and a host of players and staff to Premier League clubs, including Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Each time they’ve shown an ability to source quality replacements and quickly integrate them into an otherwise settled squad.
Remarkably, then, their young Spanish manager Emery has now won the Europa League in each of his three full seasons at the club and his services will no doubt will be as sought after as his players this summer.
Congratulations once again go to Sevilla FC, Europa League champions.
Richard Coleman, Pundit Arena
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