With their comeback win over Liverpool at St Jakob Park in Basel Sevilla FC made history in many ways. They made it five UEFA Europa League trophies in eleven seasons and three in a row, establishing themselves as firm rulers of Europe’s second club competition. By winning three European titles in three years they entered a select group of clubs, which includes Real Madrid (1956-60), Ajax (1971-73), Bayern Munich (1974-76) and Liverpool themselves (1976-78), making them the only team to have done it in 38 years.
But the win by the Rhine was not just about Sevilla’s rule over the Europa League. It was yet another proof of the Spanish domination of the two European club competitions that continues uninterrupted for three seasons in a row. Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid face each other in the UEFA Champions League final at the San Siro next Saturday so, regardless of who wins that encounter, it is now certain that nine consecutive continental trophies will end up in La Liga club cabinets.
Since 2006, when Sevilla and Barcelona did the double over English clubs (Middlesbrough and Arsenal respectively), both major competitions have been dominated by Spanish clubs. Next week Europe will celebrate its sixth Spanish champion in 11 seasons, four FC Barcelona wins adding to two Madrid victories (incidentally both of these derbies).
In Europa League they went one further, winning seven times in 11 seasons, with Atletico Madrid’s double (2010, 2012) partially filling the gap between Sevilla’s back-to-back wins in 2006 and 2007 and the current three season run. Just to emphasise how dominant Spanish clubs were, out of their 13 wins four will have been recorded against another La Liga team.
The rest of Europe is way behind. The Premier League has two UCL titles (Man Utd 2008, Chelsea 2012) and Chelsea’s last gasp win in the 2013 Europa League final to its name over the last ten years.
Both Milan clubs have won the UCL once, putting Italy in third, while teams from four different nations (Germany, Ukraine, Russia and Portugal) have one trophy each.
Comparing the two arguably strongest leagues in Europe, Liverpool’s loss to Sevilla means that Spanish teams have won five out of five final showdowns against Premier league opposition since 2006, after trailing 5-4 in previous finals (including the Fairs’ Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. Two of the five victories were won by Liverpool – they overcame Real Madrid in the 1981 UCL final and Deportivo Alaves in UEFA Cup two decades later).
If the domination by the Spanish big two can be explained rationally through their superior financial power and unmatched appeal amongst top players, it is much more difficult to explain how Sevilla manages to keep their winning ways, especially after quickly dropping out of an admittedly tough Champions League group this year.
Back home their season was nothing short of a disaster. They ended the league in seventh place, eight points behind sixth-placed Celta de Vigo, and 12 points short of the top four and a regular Champions League berth. The only game they managed to win since early March was the derby in late April, when they beat Betis 2-0. Over the last nine games they managed to secure just four points, losing to four bottom half teams along the way. Their final goal-difference was only plus-one.
The most shocking of all the statistics was their away form in La Liga. They failed to win a single league game away from the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, scoring only 13 goals in 19 games. No other team in the top five leagues shares that shocking distinction.
Three of the five games they did win away from home in all competitions this season were in the Copa Del Rey, against lower league opposition (Logrones and Miranda) or their cross town rivals (Betis). The fourth was their win against Bilbao in the Europa League quarterfinal, and the fifth the Europa League final in Basel.
The story of Sevilla’s key striker is similar to their season as a whole. Kevin Gameiro managed to score 29 goals this season, with 24 of them coming at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Out of the five goals away from home he scored a crucial penalty in the Europa League semifinal in Lviv, against Shakhtar Donetsk, before netting just after half-time in Basel to draw his team level with Liverpool.
Another talismanic player was Coke. His goalscoring record this season was unimpressive, with five goals in 41 games. But on further inspection, the goals happened to come at vital times, with two of them scored in Sevilla’s in those rare away wins in the Copa del Rey, and then one versus local rivals Betis in their only league win over the last two months, and finally a brace at St Jakob Park.
Yet, Sevilla’s season is still not over. On Saturday they face Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final at the Calderon. The two teams kicked off the season in August with an epic UEFA Supercup game, when Sevilla scored early before conceding. It then took Barca 25 minutes of extra-time to score the winner, through the departing winger Pedro, already on his way to Chelsea.
Both teams won their home league games by the same scoreline (2-1), so we can hope for a very good game this Saturday. Sevilla managed to score first in all three games this season, while both teams fight for a double, as Barcelona managed to win the league after a tight run-in.