Sevilla, already well-versed in success in the Europa League (albeit in its old guise of the UEFA Cup), begun their second period of command over the tournament, under the tutelage of Unai Emery, with victory against Benfica at the Juventus Stadium. The Spanish side triumphed on penalties after a 0-0 draw, Kevin Gameiro slotting home the winning kick, to commence an era of supremacy.
The defending champions from the previous season, Chelsea, were not able to defend their crown as they featured in the Champions League and reached the knockout stages. Prior to the draw for the group stage, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld UEFA’s ban on Fenerbahce and Besiktas, meaning the two clubs were banned from the tournament due to the 2011 Turkish sports scandal. Uefa decided to replace Beşiktaş in the Europa League group stage with Tromso, who were knocked out in the playoff round previously, while APOEL replaced Fenerbahce via a draw. Metalist were also banned from Uefa competition for match fixing, meaning that PAOK would move to the Champions League playoff round, giving Maccabi Tel Aviv gaining a place in the Europa League.
When Chelsea successfully progressed from their group in the Champions League, it was confirmed that we would see a new champion in this season’s Europa League, and the favourites started circling.
An impressive 12 teams made it through the group stage unbeaten - Lazio, Tottenham, and Lyon among them - and the biggest win came when Valencia humbled St. Gallen 5-0 at the Mestalla.
The Round of 32 draw allowed many of the tournament big guns straightforward progress. Tottenham knocked out Dnipro (who would make it to the final in 2015), while Napoli eliminated Swansea 3-1 on aggregate. Juventus, whose stadium would be hosting the final, took care of Trabzonspor, while Ludogorets impressively ended the tournament of Serie giants Lazio. The biggest shock, however, came from Red Bull Salzburg, who destroyed Ajax 6-1 over two legs.
The Round of 16 produced a pair of domestic battles. The Andalusian derby between Sevilla and Real Betis was a curious encounter, with both sides winning 2-0 away from home, leading to extra-time at Sevilla, with the hosts edging through - just - on penalty kicks. Juventus faced familiar opposition in the form of Fiorentina and narrowly progressed via an Andrea Pirlo goal in the second leg. Benfica also eliminated Tottenham in a thrilling tie which ended 5-3 to the Portuguese side.
At times the game was totally even, but by the end they were doing most of the pushing. You could tell our players were suffering from fatigue and physical discomfort but this team has learned how to suffer. We have learned how to stay strong and so we were ready for that.Unai Emery
The quarter-final draw pitted strong favourites against a weaker team in each match, and there were no shocks as Juventus defeated Lyon, Sevilla beat Porto, Benfica eliminated AZ, and Valencia came back from 3-0 down in the first leg to Basel, winning 5-0 at the Mestalla after extra-time thanks to a Paco Alcacer hat-trick.
In a strong semi-final line-up, another all-Spanish clash, Sevilla against Valencia, did not disappoint. Sevilla comfortably won 2-0 in the first leg, only for Valencia, as they had done in the previous round, to mount a superb comeback and led 3-2 on aggregate going into injury time. However, in the 91st minute Stephane Mbia snuck into the box and looped home a dramatic away goal, sending Unai Emery flying down the touchline in delight. .
Benfica put on a superb defensive display in the second leg to draw 0-0 and deny Juventus, bidding to play the final on home turf, after winning the first leg 2-1 thanks to goals from Ezequiel Garay and Lima.
The 30,000 spectators inside the Juventus Stadium in Turin were not treated to a vintage final, as nothing could separate Sevilla and Benfica and the inevitability of penalty kicks would decide proceedings. In the end, Sevilla held their nerve better to triumph 4-2, Rodrigo and Oscar Cardozo the villains for Benfica, whose long wait to win another European final continues.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
The Croatian was the creative force in the Sevilla midfield and earned himself a move to Barcelona on the back of his performances.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
The Spaniard gave Sevilla the silverware which they would hold on to for three straight seasons.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
The Young Benfica winger excited with his electric pace and dribbling ability. He would move to Liverpool the summer after the tournament.
JONATHAN SORIANO - 8 GOALS
TEAM OF THE SEASON
BETO; GARAY, PAREJA, BONUCCI, MANGALA; PIRLO, RAKITIC, ANDRE GOMES; RODRIGO, TEVEZ, SORIANO.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
RICARDO QUARESMA takes the award this season, cutting inside on his right foot, but the flight of the finish is so unconventional it makes the goal truly special.
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
With the seconds ticking down in injury time at the Mestalla and Sevilla heading out, Mbia made himself a hero by scoring with 91 minutes on the clock to send the Rojiblancos to the final.