One of five Italian semi-finalists across the three UEFA club competitions, Calcio giants Juventus aim to overcome Europa League specialists Sevilla over two legs, starting on Thursday night in Turin.
By contrast with their visitors, Juve have never before lifted the trophy, but they are determined to salvage some silverware from a controversy-hit campaign and will seek a lead to take to Spain next week.
Having been humbled in the Champions League group stage last autumn, Juventus have adapted well to the rigours of Europe’s second-tier tournament, seeing off Sporting CP in the quarter-finals after previously overcoming Nantes and Freiburg.
Max Allegri’s side have been typically pragmatic, and they have not conceded a single goal from open play in five Europa League games; continuing a proud tradition – they have never been beaten at home in 12 previous matches in the competition, keeping six clean sheets in the process.
Similarly cautious in Serie A this season, the Bianconeri have specialised in 1-0 wins, though such successes have been regularly punctuated by setbacks like losing twice to top-flight newcomers Monza and being hammered 5-1 by Napoli.
After having their 15-point penalty overturned – temporarily, at least – Juve stumbled several more times, but hopes of securing a Champions League return by finishing in Italy’s top four were boosted by back-to-back wins over Lecce and Atalanta within four days last week; they now sit second in the standings.
However, recently missing out on a place in the Coppa Italia final – and at the expense of arch-rivals Inter – means Allegri’s expensively-assembled squad have only one remaining route to silverware this season.
In alliance with their proven stars, Juventus have showcased young gems such as Nicolo Fagioli and English winger Samuel Iling-Junior, who scored the opener against Atalanta on Sunday, in the first-team this term. In many ways, the future could be bright in Turin, but Allegri is under short-term pressure to produce results – and never more so than on Thursday.
While their record against Juventus is not good – they have lost twice and won only one of the clubs’ four previous meetings – Sevilla have won each of their last six matches against Italian clubs in the Europa League; the most recent saw them defeat Inter in the 2020 final.
Six-time winners of the competition, the Andalucian side have endured a tough season, losing two coaches along the way, but seem to be running into form at just the right time.
After a home loss to Girona ended Sevilla’s seven-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, they fought back from behind to beat Espanyol last weekend, with an 88th-minute winner securing victory at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
Now occupying 11th place in La Liga, fears of relegation are long behind them, and in the remaining five games they will instead target a top-half finish.
Los Rojiblancos’ third manager of the campaign, Jose Luis Mendilibar also led his new side to quarter-final success over Manchester United – following previous knockout victories over PSV and Fenerbahce – and they have now reached the Europa League semis more times than any other club.
In fact, Sevilla have gone on to lift the trophy on every previous occasion when making it this far, but to reach the 2023 final against either Roma or Bayer Leverkusen, they must first outmanoeuvre an obdurate Juventus side.
While Juventus have most of their main men back in the fold following a series of injury layoffs – for instance, both Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa are available, though not in peak condition – Mattia De Sciglio had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his right knee following an injury against Lecce.
Bremer is also absent due to a muscular problem, but Leandro Paredes returns from a Serie A suspension, meaning Max Allegri should have an otherwise full squad to choose from on Thursday.
As ever, the Tuscan tactician remains elusive in terms of both player selection and formation, but Angel Di Maria has starred in Juve’s Europa League run so far and should support either Arkadiusz Milik or Dusan Vlahovic up front.
Sevilla, meanwhile, were able to include Lucas Ocampos, Fernando and Erik Lamela in their travelling party for the trip to Turin following fitness concerns.
However, Tanguy Nianzou and Suso – who both hope to be ready for next week’s return in Seville – are unavailable due to injury. The latter’s absence may mean a move into an advanced position for veteran midfielder Ivan Rakitic, or alternatively a return to the lineup for Ocampos.
Jose Luis Mendilibar has generally selected Marko Dmitrovic as his La Liga goalkeeper – the two were previously together at Eibar – but Moroccan World Cup hero Yassine Bounou is set to start in Europe.
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Bonucci, Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Vlahovic
Sevilla possible starting lineup:
Bounou; Navas, Bade, Gudelj, Acuna; Gueye, Rakitic; Ocampos, Torres, Gil; En-Nesyri