Football Features

“Ever Banega’s Last Ride” – Five things learned as Sevilla and Shakhtar book Europa League semi-final spots

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:24, 11 August 2020 | Updated: 9:49, 30 March 2021

In an action-packed night of football, Sevilla and Shakhtar Donetsk confirmed their place in the Europa League semi-finals.

Five-times winners Sevilla beat Wolves to set-up a semi-final against Manchester United, whilst Shaktar smashed Basel 4-1 and will now face-off against Inter. What did we learn?

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1. Lucas Ocampos can do it all

For years, Lucas Ocampos looked like one of those hyped prospects that never truly delivered on his ability. But he joined Sevilla a year ago and under Julen Lopetegui’s guidance, is finally starting to look like the world-beater he was promised as.

Ocampos can do it all. You need dribbling? Ocampos had more (5) than any other player on the pitch. Despite his tall stature he can weave between defenders and tie them up in knots as well as anyone. You want defending? Ocampos recovered the ball more than any other Sevilla player (6). You want goals? Ocampos has 17 across all competitions, a career-best for him. 14 in La Liga, 2 in the Copa del Rey and now 1 in the Europa League.

You want headers? Well today Lucas Ocampos showed that he is both Sevilla’s best dribbler and a dominant aerial threat, rising superbly to head home in the last few minutes and win the game for Sevilla. It was a genuinely incredible header and shows that Ocampos is maturing into the kind of all-around attacking threat that can carry Sevilla forward to become a consistent Champions League side.

2. Adama Traoré is an anime superhero

One of the constant quirks about anime superheroes is that they are often given absurdly godly power which is then limited in some way by a very human “stamina” mechanic, where their bodies cannot sustain the energy and power for too long. All-Might in My Hero Academia and Escanor in Seven Deadly Sins are two examples, and it remains a nice way to limit superpowered beings and make them relatable in a way that western comics don’t tend to.

In completely unrelated news, Adama Traoré was absolutely sensational against Sevilla, but only for the first-half. The Spaniard began the quarter-final against Sevilla looking in the kind of unstoppable mood that would have left the five-times winners terrified.

The way he would simply drive past their players with an unerring combination of technique, power and pace brought mind the great Ronaldo in his pomp before the knee injuries. It shouldn’t be legal for a man that big to move that quickly with that kind of grace, and yet there Adama was. The way he scorched by Diego Carlos to win Wolves’ penalty was awe-inspiring.

Adama had more dribbles than anyone else in the 78 minutes he was on the field despite doing little after the break as he noticeably tired. His superpowers vanishing as his body struggled to cope with all that energy coursing through it. He’s a superhero, but only in short bursts. Sevilla need to learn to take advantage when he’s flying, because when he’s moving he’s unstoppable.

3. Shakhtar state their case

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Basel was always the runt of the quarter-final litter, lacking a superstar side like the other three games did. However it produced the most coherent, competent and dominant display from any of the elite eight from Shakhtar.

The Ukrainian side were just too much for Basel to handle on every level. They scored early on through Junior Moraes and then from there on in it was the Shakhtar show. They were better than Basel in every single phase of play and they hammered four goals in, only conceding at the last when the game was more than won.

Shakhtar’s Brazilian core is so well-tuned and they all link so well with each other. Everyone knows their role and plays it to perfection, and with Moraes in the kind of goalscoring form he’s in, and with Marlos as bubblingly creative as he has been, don’t automatically assume that Inter are going to walk into the Europa League final.

4. Ever Banega’s Last Ride

Ever Banega has long been a polarizing figure. At once an incredible playmaker that can dominate any opponent and also an inconsistent midfielder who has a penchant for self-destructive behaviour and massive errors.

He was a key part of two of Sevilla’s famed trio of Europa League wins, and now he’s on the verge of finally leaving the Andalucian club when his contract expires he’s out to get a third for himself and a sixth for his club.

Banega was resplendent against Wolves. For all the hype around Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, they couldn’t lay a finger on Banega and Joan Jordan in the Sevilla midfield. Wolves even had a third midfielder, Leander Dendoncker, and still Banega dominated the game. The Argentine had the most touches (139), most passes completed (103) and most passes completed in an opposition half (92). He also created the joint-most chances in the game (3) including the game-winning assist. At 32-years-old he is playing as well as he ever has.

If this truly is Ever Banega’s Last Ride in the city of Seville, then he’s looking likely to make it a dream farewell.

5. Manchester United have hope but there is much to fear

The Red Devils came into the quarter-finals as the favourites but that tag will have to be re-assessed following Sevilla’s two performances in the last week. The five-times Europa League winners have looked absolutely nerveless, dominating both Roma and Wolves. They have scored three goals and conceded none, and they have key players in the kind of form that if United show up looking as short of ideas as they did for 70 minutes against Copenhagen, they’re going home in a body bag.

But conversely, Wolves showed United the key to hurting Sevilla: pace. Adama Traoré caused Sevilla no end of trouble running with confidence at Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé. He won a penalty (which yes, probably should have been retaken after encroachment) by blitzing by the defence with the ball at his feet, and what do United have in abundance? Pace. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are both rapid, whilst Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes are quick too. So Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will know that there is a way to hurt Sevilla (and his players should have extra motivation since a lot of this squad were knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla two years ago), but they will have to take their chances because Sevilla have shown a ruthless streak that could knock-off the Red Devils.

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