For the third straight year, and fifth time in 11 years, Sevilla have played in and won the Europa League final, defeating Liverpool 3-1. Next season they’ll take their deserved place in the Champions League, and hope to never return.
For the first 45 minutes, Liverpool were clearly the superior team. Sevilla took just one shot, none on target. Liverpool scored one on a brilliant Daniel Sturridge strike, and had another (rightfully) ruled offside. Three Sevilla handballs in the box (at least one of them was a clear and obvious penalty) went uncalled, and Liverpool weren’t able to put away any of their other half-chances.
It took just 17 seconds, however, for all of Liverpool’s first half good work to be undone. Sevilla took the second half kick-off and marauded down the field, taking advantage of a sleepy Liverpool defense to thread a ball through to French striker Kévin Gameiro, who slotted it home:
From there, Sevilla played 30 of the best minutes of soccer you’ll ever see. They were first to seemingly every loose ball, and put numerous crisp passes in behind Liverpool’s defense that caused constant chaos. They dealt with Liverpool’s counter-press quite well, slicing and dicing it for their second:
Seven minutes later they got their third, and while it did come after a very lucky deflection, by that time Sevilla had missed more than enough quality chances—Gameiro lingering on his breakaway just long enough for Kolo Touré to catch-up, Gameiro failing to bury a chance when Liverpool inexplicably left him alone after a throw-in—to feel that they deserved their third. The final 20 minutes were a formality, as Sevilla choked all life out of the game despite Liverpool throwing strikers Divock Origi and Christian Benteke into the game.
This sad Liverpool fan sums up the finish:
In many ways, Sevilla and Liverpool had very similar seasons. Both had disappointing league campaigns, with Sevilla finishing seventh and Liverpool eighth. Both made a cup final, with Liverpool losing in the League Cup final and Sevilla playing in the Copa Del Rey final this weekend. But Sevilla’s victory means that this year will be considered a success, while Liverpool will rue another missed opportunity.
Sevilla will hope to emulate the trajectory of fellow La Liga club Atlético Madrid, who won this competition in 2010 and 2012 while constantly being raided for talented strikers, but have since turned the La Liga’s Big Two into a Big Three. Similarly, Sevilla have lost an incredible amount of talent the past three seasons (Carlos Bacca, Alberto Moreno, Ivan Rakitic, Álvaro Negredo, Jesús Navas) but replenished it and still dominated the Europa League. This year they dropped down into the Europa League after finishing third in a brutal Champions League group, but they’ll hope this is the last time they’re in the Europa League for awhile.
As for Liverpool, their future is quite bright, just not as bright as it would’ve been with a win. They’ll have no European soccer next year, which is the same platform from which they launched their shock 2013-14 title run, and is somewhat of a relief given that they played more games than any other European club this season. But it means another season as a second-tier side, and it will make it more difficult to attract world-class players this summer, no matter what Jurgen Klopp says.
The biggest winner tonight, however, was UEFA. The game was a good, fun, attacking affair, and while Basel’s St. Jakob Park was a curiously small venue to hold a final in, it did make for a wonderful bandbox atmosphere. The decision two years ago to award the winner a spot in the Champions League has had the desired effect, as most teams now take the tournament seriously starting in the Round of 16—rather than the semifinals as in years past—amping up the competition and fan interest.
It’s no Champions League, but for much of tonight’s game, the atmosphere and tension felt just the same.