Sevilla FC coach Unai Emery urged fans and players to put the Spanish Liga out of their minds as they focus on the UEFA Europa League semi-final opener against his old side, Valencia CF.
"The Liga has nothing to do with this competition," insisted the 42-year-old, whose team are unbeaten in their last 13 home games against their domestic rivals – including several during his own spell as Valencia coach, from 2008–12. "The only thing that we have to focus on is this match. The final in Turin is a long way away. We have to stay in the moment."
Excluding outside factors may be a challenge for Emery, who knows Valencia well. "I was there for four years, and that made me a better person and a better coach, but I am now 100% Sevilla," he explained. "We know Valencia, but the fact I know some of the players I trained is not an advantage for us. I expect the best from Valencia – they are a good team with good players."
So, of course, are Sevilla, and while Emery was wary of overstating his squad's good form in light of defeats against Real Betis Balompié (2-0) and FC Porto (1-0) in the competition this year, he was eager to invoke the spirit that had brought his charges all the way from the third qualifying round; this will be their 17th UEFA Europa League game since they kicked off against FK Mladost Podgorica on 1 August.
"We have a big responsibility because this competition has given a lot to Sevilla," he said. "We always remember the first match of this competition against Mladost in August, and when I saw 4,000 Sevilla fans in Estoril [for the group stage game against Estoril Praia] I knew exactly what this competition means for Sevilla."
The prospect of Sevilla adding a third triumph to the back-to-back UEFA Cups they won in 2006 and 2007 is keeping the players on their toes. Centre-back Nicolás Pareja said: "I can see the team are looking forward to this game. The goal is to keep up this form. You can see during the training sessions that we really want to win Europa League."
Sevilla's fine form, winning 12 of their last 15 games, has not harmed squad morale either. Valencia have won six in that time, but their coach Juan Antonio Pizzi points out that Sevilla "couldn't beat us" in the Liga this season. The clubs drew 0-0 in Andalusia in February, Valencia having triumphed 3-1 at home when they met in September – not that is he is too bullish.
"Valencia coaches and players have wanted to win at this stadium for the last ten years and we are no different – but we are not favourites," said the 45-year-old, who is expected to select Vicente Guaita over the fit-again Diego Alves in goal. "It is the biggest-ever match for many of us, me included. We are going to focus on getting a good result and let's see if we can reach the final. We expect the tie to be decided in Mestalla, though."
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