Two-time UEFA Cup winners Sevilla FC are eager to prove they can cut it in the UEFA Europa League – and hope a win at home to FC Slovan Liberec can silence their detractors after a sticky patch in Spain.
A 1-0 home defeat by RC Celta de Vigo at the weekend left Unai Emery's side 14th in the Spanish Liga ahead of this Group H meeting with Liberec. "The supporters are disappointed because of our last match against Celta, so we have the opportunity to change their opinion tomorrow," said the 42-year-old Emery. "Europa League football is a dream for us – we want to carry on in the Europa League."
Sevilla remain top of the section after substitute Víctor Machín struck two minutes from time to cancel out Michael Rabušic's opener in Liberec on 24 October. That equaliser came after the Czech team's goalkeeper Přemysl Kovář had been sent off. It was something of a reprieve for Sevilla, but a home victory on Thursday could guarantee them a place in the round of 32 – no small prize for Emery.
"If we win we are almost certain to finish first, and that is very important with two matches left," he said. "We have to be an aggressive team at home. We have to avoid the little doubts which appear when a team isn't winning games. They are going to be strong in defence, they counterattack well and they are dangerous from set pieces. We have to stop the chances they had in Liberec. We have to concede fewer goals."
Defender Coke echoed his coach's sentiments. "The last Liga match against Celta was misleading," said the 26-year-old. "We have to cut out the mistakes we made; we have to dominate the game. If we improve in defence we will have more chances to win matches. We want to enjoy the Europa League – we want to reach the final but we have to take it step by step."
Much like their hosts, Liberec are not in the finest fettle, having drawn three and lost one of their last four fixtures in all competitions. However, they are unbeaten in eight European games, winning five, since starting the season with a 2-1 loss at Skonto FC in the second qualifying round.
"I think that when the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is full it is a very difficult place to win," said Liberec coach Jaroslav Šilhavý, whose charges lie fourth in the Czech First League. "Sevilla have a lot of good players, but they have 14 new players since last season and they need time to adapt. I'm not sure if they are under pressure but sometimes it is better to play when you are under pressure.
It seems we play better against the stronger teams – we have more discipline and we play more attacking football."