After their two recent league defeats, Sevilla retake the European stage looking to provide impetus to their aspirations. Standard Liège, who fell in Nervión in 2014, will try to break their duck in Spain, where they have not won since they tasted victory at the Santiago Bernabéu in 1970.
It was the 5th of May 2016. It has been two years and four months since the last time the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán saw a UEFA Europa League match. They would go on to lift their fifth title in Basel that season, but a lot has happened since the last time the Europa League was in Nervión. Fortunately, there is no sense of nostalgia, because during all this time the views from the very highest level of European football has been even better, but for Sevillistas the Europa League always holds a special place in the heart. They have already had 270 minutes to remember all the good memories during the summer, but the structure of the tournament has thus far prevented the UEL from exciting the fans in the stands to the fullest extent.
To walk this glorious path once again, the first step that Sevilla take will be against Standard Liège, the prestigious Belgian side who curiously are the only Belgian side to have played Sevilla in official competition. Fate has placed Standard Liège in the same group as Sevilla for the third time in the past decade, with the matches often being evenly matches. It is worth mentioning however that the only victory for the Belgians came at their ground in 2008, back when the groups were made up of five teams and there were no return legs. In their encounters in 2014/15, the season in which Sevilla went on to win the title in Warsaw, there were no goals in Liège and in the return leg at home Sevilla won 3-1 thanks to goals from Gameiro, Reyes and Bacca.
The only time that Standard have visited Nervión, in 2014, they fell 3-1 with goals from Gameiro, Reyes and Bacca
Returning to the present, it is now the turn of Machin's men to fully take advantage of their return to a competition that has made them a much bigger club and one that they have thus far navigated with great efficiency, despite the fact that the previous rounds have proven to be an insurmountable obstacle for other squads that were supposed to have at least the same pedigree as Seville. With some key casualties which will affect the team in the medium term, the manager has to share out the minutes among his squad and strengthen his gameplan, without forgetting that they will have to visit Levante on Sunday and on Wednesday they welcome none other than Real Madrid to Nervión.
In addition, until the next international break in October, the matches will come thick and fast both domestically and on a continental level, which will require them to make the most of this period to go back to showing the positivity that was on display at the beginning of the season. Statistics should give them plenty of optimism to do so, as the team have won their last eleven matches in the Europa League against non-Spanish teams. The only blemishes to this streak are the defeats against Betis and Athletic, in spite of which Sevilla ended up progressing to the next round. Furthermore, Standard have not fared well in Spain in recent times, having played five matches and only won once, against Real Madrid in the European Cup of 69/70 by 3 goals to 2, allowing them to knock them out in the return leg.
In their five visits to Spain, they have only managed to win once, against Real Madrid in 1970
Last season's runner-up in the Jupiler League and winners of the Belgian Cup were trying to return to the group stage of the Champions League after a nine-year absence. However, they were stopped by Ajax in the third playoff round and forced to return to the Europa League. They have competed in the Europa League seven times in the last decade, with their best result during this period being their run to the quarter-finals in 2010. With Michel Preud'homme in the dugout for the third time in Europe, they have three players in their squad who have played their football in La Liga in the past, all of them at Andalusian clubs. Carcela, who played for Granda CF, Lestienne, who played for Málaga CF and the goalkeeper Ochoa who has played for both of those teams.
The game will be refereed by Gediminas Mažeika, who will officiate for the second time at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. His last visit was in February 2016 in a match against Molde FK which Sevilla won 3-0. He has refereed a Standard Liège game in Liège against the Danish side Esbjerg in 2013, with the Scandinavian side coming away with a 2-1 victory. A good atmosphere is to be expected in Nervión, although the timing of the match makes it difficult for many of the season ticket holders to get to the stadium in good time. In fact, the Europa League is using the same kick-off times that are in effect for the first set of fixtures in the Champions League. Sevilla have been given the early slot for this match, with the first whistle at 18:55 CEST.