The Europa League has delivered some real Thursday night pleasure for many viewers this season.
It showcases Europe’s best talent outside of the Champion’s League, and introduces a variety of continental styles and systems to the British viewer. The competition is set to culminate with a clash between Benfica and Sevilla, staged in Turin on Wednesday the 14th of May.
Benfica have endeared themselves to the British public for a couple of years now, due to the way they play and also because of their endless quest for European success.
The Bela Guttman Curse will inevitably be noted in TV coverage of the game, and to some it may seem more than just coincidence that Benfica have lost their last seven European finals. This is surely more to do with the psychological weight of expectancy than a curse. Nevertheless, it’s a curse that’s taken seriously in Lisbon.
Benfica are a brilliant football team with an amazing pedigree. Jorge Jesus is one of the most charismatic managers in Europe and he has them playing with discipline and flair.
Benfica can pass the ball as well as most teams, retaining possession when a chance to counter has gone, and taking risks on the ball immediately after they win it back. Benfica counter attack like lightning, so Sevilla will have to play with caution when they’re on the front foot. Watch players like Lima, Sulejmani and Rodrigo combine when Benfica are on the move.
What’s equally impressive about Jorge Jesus’ side is that they defend superbly in two compact banks of four. When they want to be, they’re mightily hard to break down, as they proved on their last visit to Turin.
Benfica held Juve to a 0-0 draw registering no shots on target in the entire 90minutes. They were also down to nine men for the final 6minutes of the game, but they stayed compact and showed Juve no way through. Giant centre halves, Luisao and Garay mean Benfica are particularly well equipped in the air, and as a stylistic parallel, they aren’t too far away from Atletico Madrid.
Sevilla probably have the most momentum going into the final, purely for the tremendous scenes after Mbia’s late goal against Valencia. Mbia’s 94th minute effort reduced the deficit on the night to 3-1, and put Sevilla through on away goals (3-3 on aggregate).
Sevilla have lost many of their best players in recent times, but seem to continually replace them to good effect. Negredo, Medel, and Navas all came to the Premier League, but were effectively replaced by the likes of Vitolo, Bacco, Moreno and Beto.
The impressive Ivan Rakitic is the team’s mainstay and also its heart. His all round game have attracted interest from both Liverpool and Chelsea and they’ll do well to retain his services this summer.
Many Sevilla fans will rue the fact that they could have broken the Barca/Real monopoly like Atletico if they’d kept hold of their big names, but a Europa League final is decent recompense.
Sevilla knock the ball around the back with aplomb, and they don’t tend to go after counter attacks as much as other modern teams. This could be a disadvantage against a Benfica team which likes to press high up the pitch.
Benfica look susceptible when teams have a go at them with spells of sustained aggression, and when Sevilla sense they’re having a decent share of the game they’ll need to commit men forward. This will leave them open to the counter, but it’s perhaps a chance that teams which play Benfica need to take.
Benfica look good for the win in this one, and at odds of 7/5 they also look decent value.