Yevhen Konoplyanka played against Shakhtar Donetsk 13 times when he was at Dnipro. He never scored against them. Today, although Unai Emery’s thoughts are inscrutable and Konoplyanka is not guaranteed a starting spot, the spotlight in Lviv is firmly on the Ukraine international, from who everybody is waiting for a definitive explosion in form. Sevilla are confident that Konoplyanka and all of the players who have got the team this far will reach a fifth Uefa Cup / Europa League final.
Memories of Schalke in 2006, 10 years after Antonio Puerta’s extra time goal, of Pamplona in 2007, Valencia 2014 and Florence 2015. Not since Bayern Munich won the European Cup in 1976 has a side achieved the feat of three consecutive continental triumphs in any competition. Sevilla are on the cusp of matching that.
It is a singular semi-final. Shakhtar, who have based their success on the Ukrainian-Brazilian fusion, play in Lviv, 500 kilometres away from their home in Donetsk due to the ongoing conflict in the east of the country. It is an evenly matched game in terms of the UEfa ranking, on which Sevilla are 17th and Shakhtar 21st. To put that into context, Villarreal place 32nd and Liverpool 38th.
Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu has overseen 212 European matches so he doesn’t lack experience. He has young players in Facundo Ferreyra and Maksym Malyshev, old campaigners such as Andriy Pyatov, Darijo Srna and Eduardo, and stars in Bernard and Taison.
Sevilla will need to be on their toes. Even more so given their recent form. Emery wants his side to be fully concentrated against a team with resources and talent. Even so, with as much heart? Sevilla have that in droves and have proved it in this competition year after year.