Juve, Sevilla battle for a place in Europa final
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.
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.
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.
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.
As Juventus do not tend to travel well and Sevilla have scored freely of late, the Europa League specialists can secure a spot in the final once again. Despite blooding several young starlets this year, Juve remain too reliant on Angel Di Maria for creativity, and their in-form hosts will also have a passionate home crowd roaring them on to victory.
Roma take a slender lead to Bayer Leverkusen
Taking a slender lead with them to Germany, Roma seek a place in the Europa League final when they visit Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday, in the second leg of the clubs’ semi-final tie.
Last year’s Europa Conference League winners won 1-0 in the Italian capital last week, but their hosts still have hope of securing a spot in the competition’s climactic showpiece, where either Juventus or Sevilla will await
While Bayer Leverkusen have lost just once in their last 11 away matches across all competitions, that sole reverse came in surely the most important game of all – their semi-final first-leg clash in Rome last Thursday.
Having now been beaten in each of their last seven UEFA competition contests versus Serie A sides, the Rhine club cannot afford to let that streak continue in this week’s return, as only victory offers a route through to the Europa League final, to be held at Budapest’s Puskas Arena on the last day of May.
Over the past decade, only three teams have gone on to progress after losing their semi-final opener, but Leverkusen have already beaten both RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich at home this season – in addition to toppling Atletico Madrid during the Champions League group stage.
Head coach Xabi Alonso – who was managed by Roma boss Jose Mourinho for three seasons at Real Madrid – recently led his team to a 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions, which featured 10 wins and drew interest in the rookie coach’s services from several clubs across the continent.
However, Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Bundesliga strugglers Stuttgart followed two defeats already suffered this month. As a result, Die Werkself have won none of their last four matches, and as they sit seventh in the domestic standings, winning the Europa League could also provide their best route back into continental competition.
Since dropping out of the Champions League last autumn, Leverkusen have eliminated Monaco, Ferencvaros and Union Saint-Gilloise to travel this far in Europe’s second-tier tournament, and they will surely believe their deficit can be overturned; securing a first UEFA final since 2002.
Though they were knocked out by Manchester United in the Europa League semis in 2021, Roma saw off Leicester City at the same stage of the Conference League last year on their way to lifting the trophy.
Mourinho now aims to guide his side to a second continental final in as many years, and a potential victory in Hungary may either prove the perfect parting gift or alternatively keep him in the Eternal City thanks to the Champions League place that would accompany it.
Always a formidable operator in Europe, the Portuguese coach has continued Roma’s tradition of success on home soil in UEFA competition – they have now won 15 of their last 17 knockout matches at the Olimpico, drawing the other two – but they are generally a less formidable proposition on their travels.
Having progressed from 10 of their last 11 European knockout ties – including each of the last seven in a row – Roma certainly possess the wherewithal to complete their task on Thursday. They may pose little threat – aside from set-piece situations – but scoring once should be enough to hustle their way through and see Leverkusen come up short once again.