Football Features

“Jesus saved Sevilla” – Winners and Losers as Lopetegui’s men punished luckless Lukaku in Europa League final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:35, 21 August 2020

In a thrilling night of football, Sevilla came from behind to beat Inter 3-2 in the Europa League final.

The win marks Sevilla’s sixth win overall in the last 14 years. They dominate this competition.

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Winner:  Luuk de Jong

In La Liga this season, Luuk de Jong had 51 shots at goal, that ranks in the top 20 for all players. However with that he scored just 6 goals, with a staggeringly poor shot conversion of 11.75%. He was intensely wasteful, constantly spurning chances to get Sevilla goals. In fact only Alvaro Morata, Karim Benzema and Luis Suárez missed more big chances than the Dutch forward.

Yet tonight, and in this week-long mini-tournament in general, De Jong has come up big for Sevilla. First he beat Manchester United off the bench with a lovely finish off a Jesus Navas cross, and then today he again took advantage of two crosses (one from Navas, one from Banega) to power two phenomenal headers into the back of the net. He took Sevilla from 0-1 down to 2-1 in front and gave them genuine menace.

Inter had only conceded one header prior to tonight, but they had no answer for De Jong’s movement all night long. And the exceptional  technique on his headers (both were very different) showed the excellence Inter demanded of him to score; but the mad thing is he rose to the challenge. Twice. De Jong’s saved his goals for the best possible time and now walks away from Germany as a Europa League winner.

Loser: Diego Carlos

Diego Carlos has had a pretty miserable time of things in this Europa League mini-tournament. He came into it as one of the highest-rated defenders in Europe after a superb domestic campaign with Sevilla. However all the hype was absolutely rent asunder by three displays that, whilst solid for the most part, very much highlighted one specific weakness: pace.

First Adama Traoré blew by him in the quarter-final and in his haste to chase him back, Carlos conceded a penalty. Then in the semi-final in his desperation to stop Marcus Rashford he dove into the back of him and conceded a penalty. Then tonight in the final he got stitched up by Romelu Lukaku and out of anguish and idiocy, stabbed out to bring the Belgian down and concede a penalty.

Three games, three penalties conceded, one chance of a big summer move well and truly scuppered. Alright no one likes dealing with pace, but most defenders can react to it with a degree of maturity, rather than leaping into tackles like a maniac.

Winner: Diego Carlos

However as much as his maniacal tackles almost cost his side in each round (but never actually did) he ended up having the last laugh. The greatest laugh that perhaps anyone has ever had in a cup final. After getting humiliated by Romelu Lukaku and conceding a penalty for fouling him, Diego Carlos got his revenge in the second-half.

The Klingons say revenge is a dish best served cold, but Diego Carlos is no Klingon, and so with 74 minutes gone in tonight’s final and a semi-cleared corner was falling down to him, Diego Carlos did what all Brazilians do and leaped into the air with an absurd bicycle kick and connected with a sweet thump. However the ball was rolling wide until it pinballed in off the outstretched leg of… Romelu Lukaku!

Diego Carlos, Sevilla’s weakest link at the back this past week, ended up being their match-winner. Their trophy-winner. With an overhead kick! That he deflected in off a striker who had previously humiliated him! Football, bloody hell!

Loser: Romelu Lukaku

It is an act of sheer cruelty that Romelu Lukaku ended up scoring the winning goal in the Europa League final… for Sevilla. The Belgian has been on a ridiculous run of form pretty much all season but especially in the Europa League. His penalty tonight was his 34th goal of the season, matching the great Ronaldo’s tally, and it also marked his 8th straight game in Europe with a goal and his 12th straight Europa League game with a goal (a run stretching back to 2014).

And yet, his miss second-half when 1v1 with Yassine Bounou with the score at 2-2 was shocking for a player in such form. And then for the deflection on Diego Carlos’ overhead kick. He looked a broken man at full-time and it’s hard to not sympathise with him. All his records, vanishing like dust beneath as spectacular a failure as you could have imagined for Inter’s brilliant Belgian.

Winner: Jesus Navas

13 years ago, Jesus Navas won his second straight Europa League with Sevilla, his hometown club. However this magnificent side that was arguably the best in the world for that season, failed to kick-on and transfer their greatness to the Champions League (in part because club captain Antonio Puerta tragically passed away, robbing the side of a soon to be world-class left-back and a fantastic leader). And then Sevilla were soon ripped apart by bigger sides in the transfer market; except for Navas, he stayed for a while longer and watched Sevilla settle back into mid-table mediocrity before eventually leaving for Manchester City in 2013.

No sooner did he leave, however, than Sevilla sprang back to life and won three consecutive Europa Leagues. Navas got to win a Premier League title with City but he must have wished he could have been part of those magical European nights for the club he loves so much. Well, now he has been, and not only has he been there, but even at 34-years-old and playing out of position, he has been crucial.

Wearing the captain’s armband and playing right-back, Jesus Navas has been an incredible attacking outlet for Sevilla – especially in this mini-tournament. Jesus played well in every game, and got massive assists in the semi-final and final. His holy crosses for Luuk de Jong bamboozled both Manchester United and Inter, giving Sevilla massive goals that allowed them to twice come from behind to win. Tonight, with his side 0-1 down early in a major final, Jesus saved Sevilla.

Now Jesus Navas has hoisted yet another Europa League trophy, this one probably sweeter than any other. 2006, 2007 and now 2020. Jesus Navas, Sevilla’s saviour.

Winner: Julen Lopetegui

Redemption narratives are one hell of a thing. Two years ago Julen Lopetegui was taking over Real Madrid in disgrace after being fired from the Spain job on the literal eve of the 2018 World Cup. Without his excellent coaching, Spain got worse as the tournament progressed and eventually fell to Russia.

And then, with his credibility shot and momentum robbed, Lopetegui was a disappointment at Real Madrid too. There were moments where it looked like it was all going to come together, but his risky style of play was always a rough sell to the Bernabeu heirarchy and now without a great World Cup run under his belt to strengthen his position, it was a fight he couldn’t win.

So he lost. A bunch. The nadir was a 5-1 obliteration in El Clásico that saw him sacked. And he was without a job until Sevilla came calling at the end of that season. Lopetegui and sporting director Monchi had one hell of a task on to reinvigorate the side and they did superbly.

 

A fourth-place finish in La Liga saw them guaranteed to be in the 2020/21 Champions League. That alone would have been a success in a season where only one player scored more than six league goals. But this is Sevilla, and they expect more. So Lopetegui moved on into the Europa League mini-tournament. They had to beat Roma, and they did. They had to beat Wolves, and they did.

Then they had to face Man Utd and even though they went behind, they came back to win. Inter in the final? Same outcome. No opponent posed too great of a challenge. They ended the season on an incredible 21-game unbeaten run.

With Lopetegui’s excellent tactical set-up of flooding key central areas to maintain control and then using the wide areas to create chances via intensely adventurous full-backs, Sevilla were always able to come back in games.

Julen Lopetegui has always been a tactical mastermind, but now he has the silverware to go with it and all the gravitas that brings. Now once again Sevilla try to take the next step and become a regular Champions League side. With Lopetegui running the show, anything’s possible.

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