The 2014 Europa League final between Benfica and Sevilla promises to be a real treat. For those of us who aren’t subscribed to expensive cable packages, this year’s tournament has been an intriguing opportunity to see some of Europe’s finest sides on terrestrial TV.
Benfica are a delight to watch and they’ve been a revelation since they entered this year’s tournament through the back door of the Champion’s League. Jorge Jesus’ men eased past sides like Tottenham in the lead up to the final, and they represent an unusual mix of discipline and outright flair.
Benfica seem to do everything right under Jorge Jesus: they defend in two compact banks of four, they can counter attack at lightning pace and they can pass and retain the ball as well as any team when play settles. It was a real spectacle watching Benfica dismantle Tottenham at White Hart Lane, with a display of clinical counter attacking, combined with perfect touch and individual skill.
It was equally impressive to see them overcome Juventus in the semi’s. Man for man, Juventus were the best team in the tournament, but after going down 2-1 at the Stadium of Light, Juventus had to attack in the return leg at Turin.
Benfica nullified the Italian Champs in a 0-0 draw which any away team would be proud of; especially considering that Benfica never managed a single shot on target, and went down to nine men for the final six minutes.
We’re beginning to appreciate the art of defending in the modern game and Benfica are amongst the best in the business. They tend to allow the opposition the ball on the wings and draw the fullbacks in tight to the centre halves. The aerial prowess of Garay and Luisao means that they deal well with high balls coming into the box, often aided by players like Cardozo at set pieces.
Sevilla are more of an unknown quantity, but the scenes of jubilation following their3-1 defeat to Valencia projected them to a wider audience. Sevilla’s vital away goal - courtesy of the impressive Mbia - came in the 94th minute of their semi-final, and could give Sevilla some much needed impetus.
Sevilla seem to have something of a conveyor belt of talent, selling a barrow-load of top talent and constantly reshuffling their first eleven. Negredo (Man City), Medel (Cardiff), and Navas (Man City) all played for the same Sevilla team, before being replaced by players like Bacca, Vitolo and Moreno.
Sevilla are good in the air, and like to play the ball around the back, where they’re quite flexible positionally - in the manner of many a modern team.
Croatian midfielder, Ivan Rakitic, is the heartbeat of the current side and has been ever-present through some of the difficult transitions of recent years. His forward running enthusiasm may be checked in the game against Benfica as it’ll be his duty along with Stephane Mbia, to obstruct any lightning counter attacks.
We will hear talk of the famous Bela Guttman Curse before the final in Turin. Guttman left Benfica on bad terms in 1962 and when he left the club, he claimed they’d never win another European final in a hundred years (having recently lifted two European cups under his tutelage). Since then Benfica have been in seven European finals and won none.
The crippling expectation generated from past defeats could weigh heavy on the minds of some players, but you’d still expect Benfica to come through, and with odds of around 7/5 per Bookmakers.
It could be quite a tense and timid affair as most finals are, but if one team scores early, we could be in for a spectacle.