Football NewsThursday 28th April 2016

Europa League Review: Allen miss proves costly for Liverpool while savvy Sevilla move into pole position

Europa League Review: Allen miss proves costly for Liverpool while savvy Sevilla move into pole position

2) Rivalries are thankfully forgotten when tragedy strikes

The wonderful gesture from the Villarreal fans at El Madrigal will not be forgotten in a hurry by the Liverpool supporters fresh off the back of this week’s final Hillsborough verdict.

The 96 banner unfurled by the home crowd in their famous yellow colours was a lovely touch, comrades in arms uniting to show respect to the people who lost their lives all those years ago and their loved ones.

Even though some club rivalries are so fierce in certain countries that this is not always the case, the cross European show of unity was a reminder that at the end of the day football is just a game.

With David Cameron and his government urging us all to stay in Europe in the face of the Boris Johnson backed Brexit campaign, for once the Prime Minister might be talking sense.

Travelling all over Europe to engage happily with continental fans and their different cultures is a fundamental part of what makes the beautiful game so enriching for so many of us.

3) Sevilla’s away goals give them the advantage

Even though Shakhtar Donetsk came back to get a result out of their home leg against two-time defending champions Sevilla, the visitors’ top and tail away goals should prove crucial.

The hosts switched off after six minutes to let Spanish midfielder Vitolo curl the opener inside the far post with chances few and far between throughout the other semi-final in the Ukraine.

Buthen Yaroslav Rakitskiy sent Marlos down the middle to slot it past David Soria and draw the home side level 17 minutes later, it had an ominous feeling for Sevilla.

This duly played out nine minutes from the break when Taras Stepanenko headed Marlos’ cross past Soria to make it two with the Sevilla defence worryingly frozen.

As has often been the case this season, though, French international Kevin Gameiro starred late to convert from the spot following a foul on the lively Vitolo to leave the tie fascinatingly poised ahead of the Sevilla return.

4) Villarreal’s front two are a welcome throwback

Not many teams are confident or free thinking enough to play with two strikers up top these days, however Villarreal have benefitted from the pairing of Cedric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado of late.

I have written about Villarreal’s newest hero a great deal in this column recently, so we know how devastating the Congolese international Bakambu can be as he nearly showed with a bullet header tonight.

Former Spurs forward Soldado is an interesting partner in so much as he is not tall enough to provide regular knockdowns for his livewire companion, nevertheless he has a crafty brain at times.

He has gone on record this week as saying his head wasn’t right during his White Hart Lane spell, even though he was working hard to try and turn his lamentable form around.

He looks far more relaxed back in his native Spain now and, despite missing a decent chance before the break, he should be the cornerstone of their front two for some time to come especially if Bakambu gets tempted away.

5) Is this the season of the quick counter?

Leicester are three points away from winning the Premier League title off the back of it, while Liverpool were dealt a bad blow by it in the closing stages of their semi-final this evening.

The counter-attack has often been seen by football purists as a kind of cop out relying more on pure speed than guile or trickery to get one over the opposition.

Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, however, have brought this once vilified tactic back into the spotlight with the tiki-tala brand of patient football displayed by Barcelona and Spain on the wane.

Villarreal substitute Adrian Lopez was the latest benefactor of this swift form of retribution when he took advantage of Denis Suarez’s quick counter and cute ball to slot home right on the final whistle.

With the visiting fans celebrating what they thought was a hard-earned draw in an emotional week, it will leave Liverpool with a hard ask now in the return leg against a stingy Villarreal defence to reach the final next month.

Join me on 5th May for the next round of reflection.

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