Fresh off sealing a hat-trick of Europa League triumphs, Saturday’s final of the King’s Cup presents Sevilla with the chance to further their reputation as Spain’s cup kings. A stirring 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Basel on Wednesday not only gave Sevilla an unprecedented third consecutive Europa League title, but a fifth in just 11 seasons.
In that time, the Andalusians have also lifted the Copa del Rey on two occasions. The fact that they have failed to finish in the top four in La Liga for seven seasons, coming in seventh this time around, makes their cup exploits all the more remarkable.
Indeed, Sevilla have not lost a final in any competition since 1962. They have continually proven themselves a team for the big occasion. And their achievements in recent years have been made all the more impressive by the fact that they have repeatedly had to regenerate their squad. Carlos Bacca, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Alberto Moreno are just some of the names to have departed the Sánchez Pizjuán in the past few seasons. Moreno was even on the opposing side on Wednesday as Liverpool became the latest victims of Sevilla.
And Unai Emery and his side will be hoping to do similar on Sunday at Atlético Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium against a team that could be featuring three players raided from their own ranks. Ivan Rakitic, who inspired Sevilla to Europa League glory two years ago, was a key part of the Barcelona side that won a Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey treble in his debut season a year ago, and has again been influential in retaining the league crown. The Croatian is also a perfect example of the affection so many of the players who depart Sevilla continue to hold for the club.
“I wouldn’t [celebrate if I scored],” he said. “Out of respect for the fans of Sevilla. On Wednesday I celebrated Sevilla winning but on Sunday I want to beat them.”
Aleix Vidal made the same journey as Rakitic last summer, so far to less success. Sidelined for the first half of the campaign because of Barcelona’s transfer ban, he has not featured in the club’s run in to the Primera Division title, confirmed last Saturday by a win over Granada, in large part thanks to the continued excellence of another Sevilla transplant, Dani Alves.
The Brazilian right-back won five trophies in Seville, including their first two Europa Leagues, then as the UEFA Cup. He has won a further 22 title since joining Barcelona eight years ago. And he has been an instrumental part in the Catalans’ success, offering vital width down the right flank, particularly benefiting Lionel Messi.
Given that he has been one of the cornerstones of the most successful period Barcelona, and perhaps any club, has ever enjoyed, it is curious that the 33-year-old doesn’t earn more plaudits. It is more curious still that even his own club appear to undervalue his contribution. A year ago, Barcelona allowed Alves’ contract to run down right until the end before offering him a two-year extension in the wake of their treble triumph.
Even the signing of Vidal appeared an attempt to phase Alves out of the side. And there have been plenty of rumors in recent weeks that he could again depart this summer, even if it appears once again that Barcelona have ultimately come to the realization that Alves is just too valuable to yet part with.
It would be no surprise were he to show that once again on Saturday and further illustrate that he is the best of the many stars Sevilla let get away. Alves more than most, though, will be fully aware of the dangers of ever underestimating his former club on the big occasion.
Barcelona: Coach Luis Enrique will have Claudio Bravo back available, but, with Marc-André ter Stegen the designated goalkeeper for cup competitions, the German looks set to keep his place.
Sevilla: Emery will continue to be without long-term injury victims Michael Krohn-Dehli and Benoît Trémoulinas, while captain José Antonio Reyes also remains sidelined.
Prediction: Sevilla’s record away from their home stadium has been rotten this season, not winning a single match on the road in La Liga. Yet, as they showed in a brilliant second-half performance in Basel, for Sevilla, major finals are a different animal entirely. Under the shrewd guidance of Emery, they have also given Barcelona plenty of trouble. As well as a 2-2 draw last season and a narrow 5-4 defeat in a thrilling UEFA Super Cup at the start of this campaign, Sevilla beat the Catalans at home this season.
It is, however, a big ask for Sevilla to pull off a victory on Sunday. The effort expended in the Europa League final, the subsequent joy of victory and the travel will be difficult to recover from in just four days. Meanwhile, Barcelona have had a week off and have looked determined in recent weeks to ensure their season does not fall flat in the wake of their Champion League exit. The last five games have been won by an aggregate score of 24-0 and, while it ought to be close, Barcelona should emerge victorious to seal the double.
Predicted score: Barcelona 3-1 Sevilla