With their Europa League semi-final tie finely poised after its first leg, Sevilla and Juventus reconvene on Thursday, when they will battle it out for a place in the final.
A 1-1 draw in Turin last week leaves both sides confident of coming out on top at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, where the home side have never lost a tie in this competition when playing host in the second leg.
Sevilla have, in fact, progressed from all nine of their knockout contests when at home in the second leg, during an era of unprecedented supremacy in Europe’s second-tier competition.
All told, the six-time winners have won 24 of their last 27 Europa League matches at the Sanchez-Pizjuan, but they will have to do so again this week due to a late lapse in the first leg of their latest semi-final.
Leading thanks to Youssef En-Nesyri’s first-half strike at the Allianz Stadium, Sevilla let their advantage slip right at the death, when Federico Gatti became an unlikely hero for Juventus by nodding in a close-range equaliser with 96 minutes on the clock. As a result, the Spanish side have won only one of the clubs’ five meetings in continental competition.
That Los Rojiblancos are even contesting a place in the final – where either Roma or Bayer Leverkusen will await – remains remarkable, given how their 2022-23 campaign has unfolded. The Andalucians are on their third head coach of the season, but now seem to be peaking at just the right time.
Though starting the month with a home defeat to Girona ended Sevilla’s seven-match unbeaten streak, back-to-back La Liga wins – against Espanyol and then, last weekend, Real Valladolid – have elevated them to 10th place in the table.
So, rather than fearing relegation, they will instead target a top-half finish under Jose Luis Mendilibar, who also led his new team to the Europa League’s last four by engineering victory over Manchester United in the quarter-finals. Now, an eighth victory from 12 matches under their Basque boss would send Sevilla to Budapest on the final day of May.
Juventus, of course, stand steadfastly in their way, and after a season plagued by controversy and under-performance, the Italian giants will now aim to reach their first European final since 2017, when they were ultimately beaten in the Champions League’s showpiece during Max Allegri’s first spell in charge.
After salvaging something from the home leg, Juve still travel to Spain with the weight of precedent set against them, as they have won only two of their last 17 away games against Spanish sides in knockout competition; losing 12 times and keeping just one clean sheet in the process.
More recently, though, the Bianconeri have seen off Nantes, Freiburg and Sporting CP in this year’s Europa League, and as they fell in the Coppa Italia semi-finals and their Serie A status is built on shifting sand, winning in Europe represents their best hope of success this season.
Though Juventus have had their 15-point penalty overturned, in the final reckoning – when two verdicts will be reached later this month – they still face a punishment that could see them effectively stripped of a top-four domestic finish.
On the pitch, three straight wins – over Lecce, Atalanta and, most recently, Cremonese – sees Allegri’s side sit second in the standings, eight points clear of fifth-placed Milan with only three games left to play.
However, in the circumstances, that guarantees nothing, so they will be doubly determined to defeat Sevilla on Thursday and sustain hopes of both claiming some silverware and – as a result – securing their Champions League return.
After making numerous changes to his Sevilla side on Sunday, Jose Luis Mendilibar is now set to select a similar XI to that which started in Turin last week.
Despite scoring in the 3-0 win at Valladolid, Rafa Mir should make way for Youssef En-Nesyri up front, with the latter having scored nine times in 13 home games since returning from the World Cup – averaging a goal every 106 minutes. That includes three in as many Europa League fixtures at the Sanchez-Pizjuan.
After sustaining a muscular injury in the first leg, Lucas Ocampos may be fit enough to return in support of the Morocco striker, while cup goalkeeper Yassine Bounou will replace Marko Dmitrovic between the hosts’ posts. Suso, Joan Jordan and Marcao are all expected to miss out, though.
Meanwhile, the visitors’ most high-profile absentee will surely be Paul Pogba, whose first start for Juventus this season lasted less than half-an-hour on Sunday, as he suffered a thigh injury during their 2-0 win against Cremonese. Mattia De Sciglio and captain Leonardo Bonucci are also out of commission.
Like his opposite number, Max Allegri named a much-changed lineup at the weekend, when Bremer scored his fifth goal in all competitions this term – more than any other Serie A centre-back. On Thursday, the Brazilian should replace Bonucci.
Further forward, Pogba’s role supporting a lone striker will go to Angel Di Maria, who despite several injuries earlier in the season leads Juve’s European competition stats in several categories: goals (four), assists (three), goal involvements (seven), chances created (21) and dribbles completed (23).
Sevilla possible starting lineup:
Bounou; Navas, Gudelj, Bade, Acuna; Fernando, Rakitic; Ocampos, Lamela, Gil; En-Nesyri
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Gatti, Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic