Until Unai Emery replaced Míchel as Sevilla boss, the Andalusians' season seemed to be trundling towards disaster. Emery's arrival has breathed new life into their campaign. The former Valencia coach appears to have come too late to salvage European qualification through the league, but he's just in time to deliver a Copa del Rey win that would transform the complexion of Sevilla's year. Meanwhile, Atlético Madrid were galloping towards a historic season until coach Diego Simeone's conservatism saw the Europa League holders knocked out of the competition by Russians Rubin Kazan. Now it is the Copa that will decide if a good year for the club becomes a great one.
The first leg of this semi-final followed the usual script for encounters between the two sides: a pulsating, unpredictable encounter that served up three penalties, three red cards and plenty of drama. Atlético let Sevilla off the hook, and now the second leg at the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium will be decisive. No-one is expecting a peaceful match.
At the Vicente Calderón, Sevilla were rescued - as always - by Jesús Navas and Álvaro Negredo. Simeone's chief concern is therefore cancelling out Ivan Rakitic to cut off the supply-line to both men. Indeed, the Argentine has offered hints that he will shuffle his pack to win the midfield battle. This suggests that skill will be sacrificed for strength, with Raúl García or Mario Suárez included in place of Koke. Someone to provide support for Tiago and Gabi, who will have their hands full with Sevilla midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia - the Frenchman was impressive in the first leg.
For Atlético, the key man is Diego Costa. With Falcao hitting a minor blip in form (which he is now coming out of), the Brazilian has become the fulcrum of the team, going from substitute to starter, from starter to key player, from key player to first-name-on-the-team-sheet in a matter of weeks. He it was who hit the goals for the 'rojiblancos' in the first leg, and Emery's men are well aware that his speed and movement are the air that Atleti breathe. Home defenders Fazio and Alberto Botía can expect a busy evening.
The spotlight will also be on Atlético defender Cata Díaz, who starts in place of the suspended Diego Godín. His presence often forces full-back Felipe Luis to come to his aid, and he is a weakness that Sevilla will look to target. On a night that will define both sides' seasons, there is no room for error. For the victor, Real Madrid await.