Defending champions Sevilla play host to Fiorentina in first leg of the UEFA Europa League semi-final on Thursday night. Strong from set pieces and good on the counter, Sevilla seem to have developed an ideal style for knockout tournament football but they will face a number of threats in a Fiorentina team who are equally desperate to reach the final.
Sevilla’s 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid last Saturday put an end to an impressive 34-match unbeaten run at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Before Saturday’s defeat courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, La Viola had enjoyed a purple patch racking up 11 wins and four draws in 15 matches. That form has elevated them into 5th place in La Liga and put them back into contention for a top-four finish.
However Sevilla boss Unai Emery has willingly acknowledged his duty to maintain the club’s proud tradition of challenging strongly on the European stage and will therefore still be fully focusing on Europa League success. Sevilla have never lost a European semi-final having won all three of their previous last-four ties and they have no intention changing their 100% record.
Sevilla are the reigning champions and are bidding to become the first side to win UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League four times. They are looking ominously strong again this campaign. They have won their last eight European home games including all six this season and have beaten stiff opposition along the way in the shape of Borussia Mönchengladbach, Villarreal CF and FC Zenit St Petersburg.
Fiorentina started 2015 on fire losing just once in 19 games but have dipped in form of late. They have lost three of their last five matches in all competitions and have only kept one clean sheet in eight. However on a more positive note Fiorentina are unbeaten in last 12 European away fixtures, winning eight of them. The Italians have also eliminated some quality teams in Tottenham, Roma and Dynamo Kyiv on their route to the semi-final.
Fleet footed winger, Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea has rediscovered himself in Florence and started his loan spell in fine style netting six goals in his first seven matches for the Italians. He will need to come good again on the big stage if his team are to break down a resilient Sevilla.
Argentine defender Nico Pareja is out injured for Sevilla after tearing his knee ligaments against Zenit in the quarters meanwhile opponents Fiorentina have no fresh injury concerns; Rossi and Babacar have been long term absentees for Vincenzo Montella.