ROME – Rome’s Olimpico stadium, home pitch of Lazio and venue for the Italian squad’s upcoming match in the first leg of the Europa League round of 32 against Sevilla, offers the Spanish team a chance to show some improved play to its fans and the soccer world.
Although Sevilla, with five titles to its name, is the most successful team in the history of the Europa League, the Spanish side has been less than dominant in its play throughout this season.
In the Europa League, Sevilla lost two out of its three away Group Stage games; against FC Krasnodar (2-1) and Standard Liege (1-0), and won just once against Akhisar Belediyespor 2-3.
Sevilla’s playing woes have extended to La Liga play as the side holds only the fourth spot in the Spanish League, having failed to earn a win in its most recent matches, with a 1-0 defeat against Celta Vigo and a last-gasp 2-2 draw against Eibar.
On the road, Sevilla’s most recent La Liga results have been just as disappointing, with the team losing recently against Real Madrid and Athletic Club.
And to add the bitter to the bitter ale Sevilla has had to drink this season, the Spanish club was knocked out of the Copa del Rey after a 6-1 rout by Barcelona at Camp Nou stadium in the quarterfinals’ second leg.
And yet while hope – as it oft does – springs eternal; so too does hope spring for Sevilla in the build-up to Thursday’s European face-off.
Since winning its first Europa League title in 2006, Sevilla has become the legendary team of the tourney – akin to a dominant giant – pounding the side’s powerful Iberian legs across the continent, a victor from which all other clubs quake and beg for mercy.
And so the Sevilla faithful, nearly two thousand strong from old Hispalis (the Roman name for the southern Spanish city), have made the trek from their home in Andalucia to the Tiber, to cheer on their beloved team as it faces off against Rome’s Lazio.
The Roman squad is not playing much better than its Iberian rivals, as Lazio will try to turn around a season that is quickly drifting toward the forgettable, having lost to Italian juggernaut Juventus twice, and also against Italy’s number-two powerhouse Napoli and once against always-good Inter, once against passable Atalanta and once against its intra-city arch-nemesis, Roma.
In the upcoming Sevilla match, Lazio will miss Serbia midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who has been struggling with an abductor muscle issue, while Italy striker Ciro Immobile is in doubt for the game with muscle discomfort.
Sevilla will be missing their Austrian center back Maximilian Wober, who was sent off with a red card in the most recent UEFA Champions League match he played with his parent team Ajax.
Wober, who joined Sevilla on loan from Ajax in the winter transfer market, must now serve a two-match suspension from European club competitions.
On the sidelines remain Sevilla and Spain right-back Aleix Vidal, Spain forward Manuel Agudo Duran – best known as Nolito – and French center-back Joris Gnagnon with their respective injuries, while France midfielder Maxime Gonalons is still doing recovery work in a bid to return to the pitch for Thursday’s game.