Unai Emery's team had previously gone on a good run (including the famous win against Real Madrid) but were stopped in their tracks over the weekend by Celta Vigo. Still, their European record were virtually spotless, with the Andalusians going undefeated in 14 of their last 15 Europa League matches. Conversely, FC Porto, despite the successive progressing, mirrored in Europe the porous defence they have been presenting domestically (conceding at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 Europa League outings).
The analysis of a few Sevilla's matches offered some expectations for this particular match: Individual marking from midfielders and a seemingly excessive reliance on Ivan Rakitic's brilliance. At the Dragão, the suspicions were confirmed, as the Croatian picked up Fernando, the Portuguese centre-back-cum-midfielder Daniel Carriço turned his attentions to Defour and Iborra kept an eye on Carlos Eduardo.
The home team piled on the pressure for the first 25 minutes, even though not as intensely as they did against Benfica (Herrera's presence on the bench certainly did not help), resulting in a succession of corners and half-chances - namely deflected shots or mishit clearances. Sevilla, in turn, seemed more than happy to concede the initiative and soak up pressure, waiting for the right time to pounce on the break (taking advantage of FC Porto's unbalance at times while attacking). However, the Spanish team didn't amount to much offensively throughout most of the match, bar the chance that came about through Fabiano's incomplete save cannoning off Jackson Martínez and Kevin Gameiro's mishit rebound.
- Sevilla go retro
If Sevilla's attacking intents didn't impress, the defensive approach was the most baffling. with individual marking that seemed to stretch throughout the match. This meant that the Spaniards often provided no or mistimed coverage when a team-mate was beaten in their individual duel, which in turn opened up a gaping hole in the middle for FC Porto midfielders to sprint into - when they got past Carriço and Iborra, their runs were not picked up by the centre-backs, exposing what could have been a gold mine for the Portuguese champions (which it wasn't).
FC Porto scored on the 31st minute through Mangala, moments after Sevilla's aforementioned half-chance that resulted from Fabiano and Jackson Martínez's scrambling. A corner kick in favour of FC Porto was shortly followed by a foul committed by a Sevilla player. Rather than taking his time, Fernando immediately dispatched it to the unmarked Quaresma, who made use of his trademark trivela to aim a perfect cross at Mangala's head, the French centre-back thus becoming FC Porto's top scorer in this season's edition of the Europa League, on 3 goals. His knack for aerial duels and important moments were once again most welcome (the Dragons, by the way, have scored 5 of their 9 goals in the competition via set pieces). Defour would put the first half to an end (similarly to what Quaresma would do to end put a stop to the contest) with a thunderous shot that forced former Dragon Beto to make a splendorous save.
- Second half: much ado about not... too much
In the second period the match opened up a bit more, with Sevilla looking more interested to taking some leverage with them for the second leg. Nevertheless, despite knitting a few more passes together, there was no real end product from La Liga's fifth-placed team, with the exception of Kevin Gameiro's glaring miss on 75 minutes.
The home coach brought Quintero on for Carlos Eduardo, supposedly to make the most of the game's traits - individual marking, poor defensive coverage, space down the middle - but the Colombian flattered to deceive once more. Herrera' also replaced Defour in an attempt to freshen things up, but the situation did not change that much (Ghilas' initiatives notwithstanding).
The second-leg match, to be held in a week's time, should provide a more open contest between two teams whose soft spots seem all too clear for the other side to see (and exploit). FC Porto will certainly find joy if they approach the match a bit more intensely (both in terms of pressing and dragging Carriço and Iborra out of position), while Sevilla may end up finding what they've looked for at the Dragão: the moments when FC Porto give the ball away and Rakitic has more freedom to roam.
As a side note, Jackson Martínez's absence might not be that hard to compensate, with the energetic Ghilas waiting in the wings, but Fernando's might be a bit trickier.