When two contrasting sides met, Sevilla’s Banega turned out to be the difference
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Written on: August 13, 2020
As the seasoned campaigners, Sevilla FC, who have tasted Europa League glory more than any other club met a new but a rising force in Europe, Wolverhampton Wanderers FC aka Wolves, the last quarter-final of this season promised to be a mouthwatering clash.
However, once the teams settled in, it became evident that instead of a goal-fest we were in for a tactical impasse between Nuno Espírito Santo and Julen Lopetegui’s men.
Both the teams entered the all-important game, not only on the back of impressive round-of-32 performances but also fantastic domestic runs. Tied on 70 points with Atletico Madrid, Los Palanganas finished fourth in the La Liga while their counterparts bagged an admirable 59 points and ended up in the seventh in the English Premier League.
Nuno employed his typical defense-oriented 3–4–1–2 formation in which his team sits deep, challenges the opponents to break them down, and preys on any mistake to launch an enthralling counter-attack either via direct long balls or through their flashy speed.
In complete contrast, Lopetegui trusted his team to play high-pressure, possession-centric, fluid football with a high backline — as they have played throughout the season.
While with the same approach Sevilla thoroughly thrashed Roma in the last game, Wolves turned out to be a much sterner test.
Nuno’s team couldn’t have asked for a better start to this high-profile game. In the 13th minute, Adama Traore bolted across more than half of the field before he was tripped in the box by Diego Carlos for a penalty. Raúl Jiménez, Wolves’ top-scorer of the season with 27 goals, 10 of them being the Europa League itself, however, didn’t convert from the spot as his tame effort was comfortably saved by Yassine Bounou.
The rest of the first half continued similarly, Sevilla dominated the ball but they were valiantly kept away from the box by the collective defensive effort of the Wolves unit which occasionally also threatened Sevilla’s backline on the counter.
Either of the managers could have claimed that their team was in control till the first half. Things, eventually, began to change as the second half progressed.
Sevilla controlled 76% of the possession and completed 681 passes, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Wolves were quite comfortable in defense. For a substantial period of the game, Sevilla was only able to test Rui Patrício from long-range shots and plenty of them were nipped in the bud by Wolves defenders who were more than willing to put their bodies on the line.
However, this numerical dominance materialized itself into actual dominance in the later stages of the second half, and Ever Banega was the catalyst who made this happen. He ran and marshaled the Sevilla midfield. The 32-year-old was a prolific presence in the center of the pitch who tirelessly found himself in pockets of spaces and conjured incisive passes that constantly questioned Wolves’ tiring defense. He completed a whopping 117 passes with an accuracy of 88%.
With continuous pressure and by locking their opponents in their half, Sevilla successfully turned Nuno’s side well-versed game plan against them. In the latter stage of the game, Wolves’ every counter attack was crippled by Sevilla’s press, and hence, they found no attacking outlet.
Sevilla’s 14 corners, as opposed to Wolves’ none, is a reflection of the pressure that Lopetegui’s men put on their counterparts.
Finally, in the 88th minute, Wolves’ defense dwindled when Lucas Ocampos beautifully headed home another one of Banega’s searching cross into the right corner of Patrício’s goal.
Sevilla were too mature to slip from here. For the dying minutes of the game, they kept the ball like they did all through the game and killed off any possibility of a Wolves’ comeback.
In a fascinating encounter of two varying yet potent styles of football, the five-time Europa League champions’ big-game experience and Banega’s brilliance turned out to be decisive.
“We knew we had to work a lot and I think my team has done a great game, exactly the game we expected. Nothing was easy. In the end, we are very happy because I think we have played very well against a good team,” said Lopetegui in the post-match interview.
Considering their form and the fact that whenever Sevilla has reached the semi-finals of this competition they have gone on to life the cup, their semi-final opponents, Manchester United, wouldn’t be feeling very comfortable about the upcoming clash.
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