22nd May 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
With his side trailing 1-0 at half time in their Europa League final clash with Liverpool at St. Jakob-Park, Sevilla coach, Unai Emery, got his team talk spot on, inspiring his players to go on and win the competition for an unprecedented third time in a row.
"We organised our minds at the break and we knew why we had reached this stage," he said. "We had to remember that the neutral pitch was the Sanchez Pizjuan, that we were in Seville. And the team took off."
Considering Sevilla had failed to win all of their matches away from home in La Liga, his words made perfect sense. And they must have struck a cord with their chief creative weapon, Ever Banega, who's had a frustratingly inconsistent year and is reportedly on the verge of leaving for Inter Milan, for after the break he lifted his game accordingly to match the enormity of the occasion.
While he was still industrious in the first half, the enigmatic Argentine really clicked into gear in the second stanza, in what was quite possibly his penultimate outing for Sevilla, with the Copa del Rey still to come on the weekend.
From his central attacking position, Banega, who was given a licence to roam by Emery, popped up all over the pitch to stamp his mark on the contest. Aside from well executed, subtle interchanges with left winger, Vitolo, he also dropped deep in between the two centre-backs to act as a deep lying playmaker and to give the Andalusians an extra body in midfield. The latter worked especially well, as it allowed him to orchestrate his side's possession phases by using his utterly sublime range of passing, that sees him equally adept at pinging 40 yard long balls or partaking in intricate one and two touch combination play in confined spaces.
Upon incorporating the aforementioned with his elusive dribbling ability and intelligent movement to find space in advanced areas of the pitch, which also successfully created space by manipulating Liverpool's defensive structure, it was little wonder why he managed to have such a profound impact on the contest.
With Sevilla confronted with Jurgen Klopp's dynamic set of attackers, Banega's experience and nous served his side beautifully on the defensive end too. Banega followed his manager's instructions to press and harry his opposition, predominantly Reds' midfielder Emre Can, when triggers such as a loose touch occurred or when his opponent was jammed in on the touchline. But his most impressive contribution undoubtedly came in situations where he'd slide across and cover Vitolo when he over committed himself.
Often Vitolo's eagerness to win back possession as rapidly as possible led him to press into central locations, thus leaving his left wing position vacant. Crucially, however, Banega would intuitively notice this and slide over to the left and cover the Spanish international to ensure Sevilla weren't exposed down that flank when Vitolo was bypassed by a Liverpool player or pass.
Banega's statistics that state he completed more passes than anyone else afield (54), enjoyed more successful dribbles than anyone (3), was fouled more than any other player (5) and created the second most chances behind only Nathaniel Clyne (with 2) further illustrate what a brilliant performance he put in.
"We still have to play an important game against Barcelona and I am very grateful to Sevilla because they helped me at a particularly difficult moment in my career," said an appreciative Banega of his beloved club.
"They gave me a lot of faith and I wanted to return it. Now I'm only thinking about this club - I have a lot of respect for them.
"I'm happy for the fans, we are delighted about this victory, the third in a row for us."
With Barcelona up next in the Copa del Rey final, regardless of the result, Banega can rest assured winning the Europa League, and putting in a man of the match showing, was the perfect way for him to farewell the club that believed in him from the outset if he does, in fact, head for pastures new next season.
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Ever Banega: Wickedly talented Sevilla Central Midfielder
22nd May 2016. By Edward Stratmann.