Six-time winners Sevilla began their latest UEFA Europa League campaign with a 3-1 play-off first-leg win against Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night.
A flurry of goals at the end of the first half proved decisive on a night marked by significant contributions from veteran midfielder Ivan Rakitić and new striker Anthony Martial, as UEFA’s Technical Observer panel highlights.
1-0: Ivan Rakitić (13, penalty)
Sevilla’s captain sent Dominik Livaković the wrong way with a low spot kick, having begun the move that led to the penalty award. After Jules Koundé had won the ball in Sevilla territory, Rakitić’s ball from deep set up Martial for an angled shot that Livaković saved. Alejandro Gómez was first to the loose ball and lifted it past Livaković but was clipped as he tried to skip over the goalkeeper himself.
1-1: Mislav Oršić (41)
Dinamo’s best player, Oršić scored for the fourth game running in all competitions. When Diego Carlos let Stefan Ristovski’s cross sail over his head, Oršić punished the Brazilian by chesting the ball down and burying a low shot inside the near post.
2-1: Lucas Ocampos (44)
The hard-running Argentinian capped an impressive personal display with Sevilla’s timely second goal. From a half-cleared corner, Rakitić swung the ball back across and, via the head of Josip Šutalo, it came bouncing up towards Ocampos. He swung a high boot to drive the ball goalwards and benefitted from a slight deflection off Bruno Petković to beat the goalkeeper.
3-1: Anthony Martial (45+1)
Martial’s first goal since his loan move from Manchester United followed a flowing counter sparked by Munir winning a challenge outside his own box. This was the cue for white shirts to flood forward. Ocampos carried the ball into Dinamo territory and fed Marcos Acuña on the left, who then supplied Gómez on the edge of the box. The 34-year-old showed typical composure and awareness with his final pass to Martial, who rolled a low first-time shot across Livaković.
Sevilla set up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Diego Carlos (20) partnered in central defence by Karim Rekik (4) and Koundé (23) filling in at right-back with Jesús Navas (16), on his return to the squad after injury, fit enough only for a late and warmly-welcomed appearance off the bench. Instead, the main thrust from the home full-backs came from the other side, where left-back Acuña (19) ended the evening with five take-ons – a total surpassed only by Ocampos (5) on the right side of the attack and Martial (22), with seven apiece.
Fernando (25) and Rakitić (10) played as deeper-lying midfielders with Gómez (24) showing his guile in a higher role, flanked by Ocampos and Munir (11) as Martial roamed in the centre-forward role.
Dinamo coach Željko Kopić retained the back-three formation he has employed since taking charge of the Croatian champions in early December. With plenty of bodies in the central areas, they looked to play a counterattacking game. Though they defended in a 5-4-1 formation, in possession this was a 3-4-3 with full-backs Stefan Ristovski (13) and Petar Bočkaj (96) pushing up the pitch to try to support the attack as wingers Deni Jurić (39) and Oršić (99) came inside to get closer to Petković (21), the visitors’ strong centre-forward, who caught the eye with the problems he caused the Sevilla defence.
It is eight years since Rakitić held aloft the UEFA Europa League trophy in the final act of his first spell at Sevilla. He turns 34 next month yet underlined his continued significance to Sevilla as he showcased his experience, tactical knowhow and terrific vision against Dinamo. He set the tone with the pass played from just inside Dinamo’s half which released Martial in the lead-up to the incident which brought the penalty he duly converted himself. It was not the only time Rakitić looked for the longer pass to pick out a run from Martial, who showed good movement in attack as well as the strong technique and finishing touch that brought his first club goal since October.
Sevilla are a solid, superbly drilled side yet on Thursday it was arguably their counterattacking threat that stood out, particularly in a first half where the game swung from one end to the other.
Both their first and third goals came from counterattacks and they ended the night having scored three goals in a match for the first time since 24 October. Ocampos, with 20 passes in the attacking third, was among their brightest attacking performers, catching the eye of UEFA’s Technical Observer for his ability to get behind the Dinamo defenders.
Dinamo had arrived in southern Spain having won seven of eight matches under Kopić and with one player in particular full of confidence in Oršić, scorer of their winner at West Ham in December. Mobile and technically gifted, the left-sided forward had more shots (five) than any other player on the pitch, starting with a swerving effort from outside the box that Yassine Bounou tipped over after nine minutes.
Yet Dinamo paid for a lack of concentration – and arguably their comparative lack of experience – with the two goals conceded in quick succession following the equaliser. They suffered a further psychological setback in the 53rd minute when Bounou made a brilliant double save from Rasmus Lauritsen and Jurić, following Bočkaj’s outside-of-the-boot ball back into the box from a half-cleared Oršić corner. There are big moments in every match and, on Thursday, these went the way of Sevilla.
Julen Lopetegui, Sevilla coach
“There are games where we’ve had many more chances than today. It’s true that we were more precise in that respect. There were moments we lacked calm. Perhaps we lacked a bit of control in the second half as if we’d had that we could have caused them more damage. At times it wasn’t easy – it was a very physical game. But they’re very dangerous up front and we’re only halfway through the tie.”
Željko Kopić, Dinamo Zagreb coach
“The impression we made with our play was better than the final score. If we’d kept calmer at certain moments we’d have got a better result. At some key moments that decided the game we missed our chances. I think we had more clear chances to score goals than Sevilla but they took advantage.”
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