Sevilla claimed their third straight Europa League title with a 3-1 comeback victory over Liverpool on Wednesday night at St. Jakob Park in Basel.
For the first 45 minutes it looked like it would not be Sevilla’s night, as the English side had the better of things during the first half, capped by a sensational Daniel Sturridge goal in the 35th minute.
But Sevilla showed their European final pedigree, and put on a superb display of football in the second half with a Kevin Gameiro goal in the 46th minute, and strikes from Coke in the 64th and 70th minutes to seal the crown.
With the win, Sevilla become the first team since Bayern Munich during the 1970’s to win three straight European finals. It is also the fifth UEFA Cup/Europa League title for the Andalusians, all coming since 2006.
And just like their 2014-15 Europa League success, by virtue of being crowned champions, Sevilla have qualified for the 2016-17 Champions League. In addition, for the third straight year, the UEFA Super Cup in August will be an all-Spanish affair, as Sevilla will await the winner of the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.
There were no surprises in Sevilla boss Unai Emery’s starting XI, as they took the field in a 4-2-3-1. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp countered with the exact same formation, offering the promise of an entertaining 90 minutes.
The two teams felt each other out in the first 10 minutes, with Sevilla maintaining the bulk of possession. But it was Liverpool who would get the game’s first real chance when a Sturridge header across goal required a clearance from Carriço right in front of the mouth of David Soria’s goal.
Sturridge again had a decent look at goal after a fine pass from Adam Lallana, but Soria was there to save. Sevilla finally gave Liverpool something to think about when Gameiro sent a gasp through the Swiss stadium with an overhead kick, but the ball stung Simon Mignolet’s post to keep it scoreless.
The breakthrough came just after the half hour mark through a remarkable finish from Sturridge. Roberto Firmino fed Philippe Coutinho, who then swung a pass to Sturridge on the left, and the Liverpool striker curled in a shot with the outside of the left foot past a diving Soria to hand the Reds a 1-0 lead.
The goal rattled Sevilla, and it took several minutes before they could compose themselves and get back to their brand of football. Meanwhile, Liverpool were flying high and backed by a partisan crowd, Klopp’s men pressed the Andalusians hard. The Reds thought they had scored a second goal minutes before the break, but a Lovren header as an offside Sturridge had influenced the play.
One could only imagine what Emery’s team talk was like during half-time, as Sevilla came out like a pack of wolves and drew level just 18 seconds into the second half through Gameiro. Mariano was the engine behind the goal, as he burst past two Liverpool defenders on the right before sending a cross in that was pushed into goal by Gameiro.
Minutes later the former PSG man was in on goal but heads up defending from Kolo Toure kept the scoreline even. Just shy of the hour mark a second goal was placed on a silver platter for Gamiero when a long throw-in was flicked on by Steven N’Zonzi and landed right at the Frenchman’s feet, but Mignolet came up big and made the save.
But any fears that Sevilla may have had about ruing those two missed chances early in the second half dissipated when Coke finished off a spectacular sequence of passing from the Andalusians with a curling right-footer that beat Mignolet at the far post and gave Sevilla a 2-1 lead. Like the first goal, much of the hard work was done by a teammate, this time Vitolo doing the heavy lifting playing a pair of combinations that also featured a nutmeg of James Milner.
Sevilla were not content to sit on their lead; they wanted the third goal to effectively kill off Liverpool and it came via some good fortune. A ball played in by Ever Banega deflected off of two Liverpool players and went right to Coke, who was all alone at the back post, and bounced a shot past Mignolet to extend the lead to 3-1.
The third Sevilla goal took the wind out of the sails of the Reds, and despite Liverpool being able to muster a couple decent looks, the Sevilla defence was never really troubled. If anything, Sevilla were closer to scoring a fourth as Liverpool threw all numbers forward in desperation.
In the end, once again Europa belonged to Sevilla, who will now seek a cup double when they face Barcelona in Sunday’s Copa del Rey final.