They say that the first times are never forgotten, but also that a father loves all his children equally. Sevilla FC are just one match away from a sixth UEFA Europa League final, and the dressing room is brimming with the excitement and hunger of someone who has never been so close to glory before. The squad has every type of player. From experienced winners in almost any competition, including a World Cup winner, to young lads who are dreaming of their first professional triumph. However, if there's anything that defines this outfit, it is the profound connection between Sevilla FC and the UEFA Europa League in the last fifteen years.
This is the club's sixth semi final and, on paper, the opponents in this one appear to be the toughest opponents yet. Possibly, with the exception of the first semi final against Schalke, as arriving at uncharted territory was a key handicap, but Sevilla FC always felt, deep down, the favourites to reach the final in Eindhoven. Tonight, in the dressing room, the squad will again feel that way. Of course, the footballing arguments, which mean nearly everything in the pre-match analysis, are hugely important, but these will be in the background tonight. If the Nervionenses won five UEFA Europa League trophies in ten years, it cannot just be down to the football. There has to be something more. There is more.
The mental strength of the squad is beyond any doubt
And Julen Lopetegui has known this since his arrival at the club. It must have taken two conversations with the club's management to realise that the Europa League means a lot to their team and their club. A competition that was their passport to greatness and from which they never subtracted even one iota of importance, despite the now recurring flirtations with the Champions League. On top of that, situations such as the difficulty of 2020 so far, and the adrenaline rush when Gudelj returned to the squad on Thursday, add even more ingredients to think that, maybe, success is on the cards in what Monchi recently described as "the mess".
Since his arrival in Nervión, Lopetegui has become aware of what the UEL means for Sevilla
From here on, it will be the ball that decides tonight's outcome, of course. For all the excitement that could well shrink their rivals down to size, as the Nervionenses did two years ago at Old Trafford, Manchester United are still one of the giants of world football. Like Sevilla, they had to dig deep to reach the semi finals, and, again like Sevilla, are unbeaten in league matches since football resumed in June. However, United come into this with extra motivation after losing at this stage in both the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup.
Local rivals Manchester City and Chelsea were the sides who stopped Ole Gunnar Solskjær's men from reaching a domestic cup final. If Sevilla progress tonight, it will be their nineteenth cup final in just twenty years, a truly unbelievable record which, hopefully, will be real at 11pm tonight. Of course, there's no problem if we have to wait an extra half an hour. Félix Brych, from Germany, will referee tonight's encounter, which will kick off at 21:00 CET at Stadion Köln.