The moment we’ve waited for over the last few months has arrived. West Ham fans were glued to the Europa League draw to find out who we’d be facing the round of 16.
It was no secret that the Hammers fancied Barcelona; it would give the glamour of playing the footballing giants, but actually there might not be a better time to come up against them and snatch a win.
But it was an alternative La Liga opponent that was plucked from the bowl – we now know that in order to progress in Europe, we need to beat Sevilla across two legs.
Currently sitting pretty in second spot in the league, Sevilla have a comfortable lead over third place Real Betis but may struggle to catch up with Real Madrid at the top. Let’s hope that doesn’t make them comfortable enough to rest players in upcoming league fixtures!
Touted as ‘the tie of the round’ by some of the press, this is undoubtedly the toughest draw that could have presented itself to West Ham at this time.
Sevilla have won the competition a record six times and are the only team to have lifted the trophy three times consecutively. It’s fair to say they have a formidable history in Europe, enough to give their fans the confidence to nickname the trophy the ‘Sevilla Cup’.
As an interesting aside for Hammers fans, their all-time top scorer in the competition is one Freddie Kanouté and, truth be told, we probably wish we could add him to our side now in order to overcome the Spanish side.
So, is this a good draw for West Ham? It all depends what you define as ‘good’.
It’s a major challenge, and if we head to Spain with our heads held high and keep a clean sheet, the second leg will be anyone’s game at the London Stadium. We all love a second leg home game, just as long as the tie isn’t done and dusted after 90 minutes of the first leg.
But it is, in fact, ‘good’ in terms of loosely comparable stats this season.
According to one-versus-one, the Hammers are more than a match for Sevilla. The east London side has an overall ranking of 85, while the Spanish outfit is ranked at 80.
Additionally, all of the players in claret and blue are individually ranked higher than the men in red and white.
Both clubs are on a similar performance pattern in their respective leagues; they both seem to have overcome slight dips in their seasons and are levelling off with draws and a couple of narrow wins.
But Sevilla’s sporting director, the ever-popular Monchi, showed that they are also fearing West Ham. He told ESPN: “We were drawn with perhaps the most difficult [rival] of all. A very well-built team, that is having a great season in the Premier League. They have players of a high level, both technical and physical.”
There is one further motivation for Sevilla this year, though. The Europa League final will be held in their home ground, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. I’m sure if the boots were on the other feet, there would be a maximum effort to gain a home advantage in the finale.
So it’s not all bad – while Sevilla clearly have the European advantage over a rookie Hammers side, the action on the field should see the teams well matched. Confidence will play a massive part in both of these fixtures.
Fans and enthusiasts of Sevilla have also highlighted this as a great battle for both clubs.
Alan Feehely covers the club for Football Espana. He told me: ‘I think this is a really interesting test for Sevilla. They’re not in the best of form at the moment but can outplay and beat anyone on their day; something similar to you guys, I guess. Very tough one to call.’
A Sevilla fan from Germany also tweeted me with his thoughts: ‘It’s a very nice draw. It’s always amazing to confront Premier/La Liga teams. London and Seville, two very nice cities. WHUFC with a great team and players. It will be clearly a 50/50 tie.’
It will also be a big night for David, who sent me a tweet calling what should be “an amazing two legs” – David supports both clubs, so imagine his combination of thrill and heartache at watching the draw!
Taking a quick look at the rest of the round, all eyes will obviously be on Barcelona, who have dropped down from the Champions League. They face Galatasaray, who they would surely be looking to overcome over two legs.
Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta could be a good match up and trickier than the German side would have wanted. And it’ll also be worth keeping an eye on the tie that is a rematch of the 2004 final, FC Porto Vs Lyon – with two strong European teams pitted against one another, one of them has to go.
Maybe, just maybe (fingers crossed, find two magpies and a four-leaf clover), one of them could be West Ham’s opponents in the quarter finals.