Sevilla FC reporter Nick Aitken and ACF Fiorentina expert Paolo Menicucci ponder the possibilities as their sides meet in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
Article top media content
Nick Aitken: Prior to Saturday's 3-2 home reverse at the hands of a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid CF, Sevilla had been unbeaten in the Liga since 22 February, and undefeated at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán since 13 March 2014, the UEFA Europa League holders' strength in depth underpinning their efforts this season. With the likes of Denis Suárez, Kevin Gameiro and José Antonio Reyes generally held in reserve, coach Unai Emery has a host of genuine game-changers available whenever a Plan B or C is required.
Paolo Menicucci: Fiorentina are always faithful to their philosophy and play attacking football home and away. The Viola have enjoyed more possession (54%) and better passing accuracy (88%) than any other semi-finalist. Vincenzo Montella's side had no fewer than 43 attempts on goal during their quarter-final tie against FC Dynamo Kyiv – this approach has paid huge dividends in this competition, especially in away games where the Viola have never lost and always scored.
Nick Aitken: The loss of Nicolas Pareja to long-term injury is a real blow. Now in his second season with the Andalusian outfit, the 31-year-old Argentinian centre-back had been growing in influence and authority; however he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the quarter-final second leg against FC Zenit. Frenchman Timothée Kolodziejczak, a summer signing from OGC Nice, should step into the void.
Paolo Menicucci: "When you play like we did, you should not have to struggle until the very end," said coach Montella after the second-leg victory over Dynamo, when the Viola had to wait until added time to score the second and kill the tie despite dominating and playing against ten men. Such profligacy against an effective team like Sevilla could be lethal.
Nick Aitken: Sevilla have been in superb form in the past two months, winning 11, drawing four and losing just one of their last 16 games, storming into the UEFA Europa League semi-finals and breathing down the necks of fourth-ranked Valencia CF in the Liga. One way or another, the Hispalenses appear determined to secure a place in next term's UEFA Champions League.
Paolo Menicucci: Consecutive home defeats by Hellas Verona FC and Cagliari Calcio were a severe blow to Fiorentina's Serie A ambitions as the Viola now lie fifth, 11 points off third. Montella rested a few players in those matches, meaning he has probably made the UEFA Europa League his main priority this campaign.
Nick Aitken: Winners of three of the last nine editions of the UEFA Cup/Europa League (2005/06, 06/07 and 13/14), the Blanquirrojos and their passionate fans have a real feel for the competition. European nights at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán are quite the experience, with that white-hot atmosphere helping Emery's charges rack up eight straight UEFA Europa League home victories.
Paolo Menicucci: Winners of the inaugural European Cup Winners' Cup in 1961, Fiorentina have also lost the 1956/57 European Cup and 1989/90 UEFA Cup finals. The Viola got to the semi-finals of this tournament in 2008, succumbing to Rangers FC on penalties. Runners-up in last term's Coppa Italia final against SSC Napoli, Montella's men were undone in the last four by Juventus this time, despite edging the Turin first leg 2-1.
One to watch
Nick Aitken: Snapped up from Club Brugge KV in summer 2013, striker Carlos Bacca is a relentless pursuer of even the smallest sniff of a chance, the 28-year-old constantly harrying the opposition back line. With 20 Liga goals and four in the UEFA Europa League this season, the Colombian international appears in top shape. "Emery is a very demanding coach, who always tries to get your peak performance from you – and that has been reflected in my displays," he told UEFA.com.
Paolo Menicucci: Among the four semi-finalists, Fiorentina are the only side who have registered more shots off target (74) than on (68). The Viola must improve their finishing drastically yet Mario Gomez could be the answer. If the German scored a fortunate goal against Dynamo, it was maybe the boost that the one-time FC Bayern München predator needed.
Nick Aitken: Sevilla have won five of their six knockout games this term, but in overcoming VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, Villarreal CF and Zenit, they have certainly not had an easy path to the last four. Their clinical counterattacking means they look more dangerous with a result to protect, which suggests that what might seem an advantage for Fiorentina – playing the semi-final second leg in Florence – could prove to be the opposite.
Paolo Menicucci: Sevilla have a fantastic pedigree in the competition: "They are the holders and must therefore be considered favourites," Montella said after the draw. However, the Viola have all the cards required to compete, especially if they can claim that potentially crucial away goal in the first leg.
Possible starting XI
Sevilla: Beto; Trémoulinas, Kolodziejczak, Carriço, Coke; Mbia, Krychowiak; Vidal, Banega, Vitolo; Bacca.
Fiorentina: Neto; Tomović, Basanta, G Rodríguez, Alonso; Borja Valero, Pizarro, Badelj; Joaquín, Salah, Gomez.