The Morocco stars were influential at both ends of the pitch vs Wolves and will equally be important as the Seville outfit seek a sixth title
Sevilla’s 1-0 win over plucky Wolverhampton Wanderers didn’t come until the final quarter of the game, precisely in the 88th minute through Lucas Ocampos, but Julen Lopetegui will probably feel the key moment of the contest came in the first quarter of the encounter.
In the 11th minute, after the adventurous Adama Traore had surged past the Spanish side’s midfield and backline like they weren’t there, the Wolves attacker was felled by Diego Carlos and Italian referee Daniele Orsato duly pointed to the spot.
Raul Jimenez, scorer of eight of previous 10 penalties for club and country, had the chance to land a potentially decisive blow in the quarter-final in Duisburg only to be denied by Bounou from 12 yards. This was significant for the side from Andalusia as Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are dogged and near-impenetrable once ahead. Wolves had gone in front 25 times in 2019/20, and they were unbeaten each time – winning a staggering 22 and drawing three.
The Moroccan goalkeeper thwarting the English side’s top striker was striking in that it put his team in a position where they wouldn’t have to chase the impossible. Instead, Los Nervionenses grew as the game wore on and Nuno’s team barely had a sniff after that bright start.
Indeed, as Traore’s influence waned owing to Wolves seeing very little of the ball after their fairly strong start, the focus shifted to the other end of the pitch as Youssef En-Nesyri battled the solid trio of Willy Boly, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss.
However, the Morocco star struggled early doors as the West Midlands side’s low block denied the Spanish outfit space in the final third. With their wing-backs, Matt Doherty and Ruben Vinagre, sat deep, the Premier League club’s shape resembled a 5-3-2 (sometimes a 5-3-1-1 when either Adama or Jimenez dropped into midfield), and the congested areas meant En-Nesyri did little in the opening exchanges.
It wasn’t until the 20th minute that the North African striker had the beating of that impassable triumvirate, getting on the end of a Jesus Navas cross before Boly for his first real attempt of the game. This was notable because Wolves’ most influential defender was first to nearly every cross before then, and indeed for the most of the encounter.
The 29-year-old won four of six aerial duels, the highest for the English side and only Sevilla’s Jules Kounde (won all five duels in the air) had a superior percentage.
Still, En-Nesyri had his moments. In the 26th minute, Ever Banega found Suso between the lines and the former Liverpool attacker played a fine through ball for the former Leganes frontman whose left-footed shot was just wide. In fairness, he could have done better with the shot that should have, at least, made Rui Patricio work.
The marksman’s best moment came just after the hour where he showed great strength to hold off Leander Dendoncker, the skill to beat Coady & countryman Saiss but couldn’t connect properly on the stretch to beat Rui Patricio. It was the only big chance Sevilla created all night, despite all their possession, and it was all En-Nesyri’s making.
Even though he neither scored nor assisted, the Moroccan forward kept the Wolves backline honest till his substitution in the 84th minute with Lopetegui’s dominant team searching for a winner.
Los Nervionenses ’ domination was underlined by how they kept the ball throughout the game. 76 to 24 percent was a profound chasm, even for a side with Nuno’s approach, whose average possession in the Prem was 48.3 and 47 percent in Europe.
Given they face Manchester United next, whose mean possession in the competition is 60.3 percent, the fifth-highest, the Seville-based club would expect the Red Devils to match them in a way Wolves couldn’t, which could lead to a less one-sided game.
This wouldn’t necessarily be to Lopetegui’s troops’ detriment because they dispatched Roma in the Round of 16 with relative ease – with En-Nesyri’s 44th-minute strike sealing a 2-0 win – even though they had lesser of the ball on August 6’s encounter (56 percent) than they did on Tuesday night.
Defensively, their rearguard has contributed immensely to a 19-game unbeaten run, going back to early February, which has been further underscored by just one goal conceded in their last eight games in La Liga and Europe.
The last five games have seen Bounou keep clean sheets, and Sevilla aren’t conceding chances either – statistics show they’ve allowed three big chances in that time, of which one was a penalty conceded vs Nuno’s side.
On a night where the Europa League kings completely dominated the usually gutsy Wolves, it was Bounou who saved Lopetegui’s side from a near-impossible job with that early penalty save. While En-Nesyri didn’t score, he led the line well, battled with the Old Gold’s central defenders and very nearly scored out of nothing.
The striker has already scored twice in the competition, with a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with CFR Cluj (they went through on away goals) in the last 16 arguably the club’s most important goal so far in their cup run. Bounou, at the other end of the pitch, has made possibly the most significant save of their season.
Now, both players have to produce two more colossal performances, against a seemingly fatigued Man United side in the semi-final and Inter Milan or Shakhtar Donetsk in the decider, to deliver the club’s sixth Europa League crown and Lopetegui’s first in management.