Monday, September 16, 2019

Seville derby comes amid LaLiga´s most thrilling top-four race in years

SoccerNews in La Liga 13 Apr 2019

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One of LaLiga’s fiercest city derbies takes place on Saturday, as Sevilla and Real Betis meet at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan in a game which could have a significant impact on an enthralling top-four race.

El Gran Derbi, as it is known in Andalusia’s capital, rarely disappoints, as both clubs are renowned for their vociferous supporters and the electric atmospheres they create.

Even before their encounters begin, the streets surrounding the stadium overflow with people in a party atmosphere – incessant chants pound your eardrums, flare smoke obscures your vision and excitable fans make it nearly impossible to move.

On the pitch, proceedings are often fiery and engrossing, with only one derby in the last 10 years finishing goalless.

But few of their meetings have ever come amid a race for Champions League football, with the six-way scrap for the final spot in LaLiga’s top four proving a gripping watch.

Getafe unlikely occupiers of the hot seat

In only four of their 11 previous seasons in the top flight have Getafe finished in the top half of the table, making their rise to fourth in LaLiga all the more remarkable for a side with one of the smallest budgets in the division.

Key to their success this season has been striker Jaime Mata, a free transfer from promoted Real Valladolid after scoring 35 times for them last term. His 13-goal haul this season earned him a shock Spain call-up last month.

Centre-back Djene Dakonam has been similarly vital and has established himself as one of the league’s finest defenders, with his athleticism, reading of the game and technical ability making him a fine all-round player.

A run of one win in four games has seen their stranglehold on fourth slip a little, with Sevilla now just a point behind, but there is no doubt coach Jose Bordalas is doing a sterling job at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez and will likely be targeted by bigger clubs come the end of the season.

Do or die for Betis

No team in LaLiga flitters between the brilliant and the baffling quite like Quique Setien’s Betis, as they are entirely capable of beating Barcelona in Camp Nou one week, before then losing to struggling Villarreal the next, as occurred in November.

Although entertaining to watch, Betis simply do not score often enough, with Sergio Canales and Giovani Lo Celso their joint-top scorers in LaLiga on just seven goals apiece.

They have slipped to ninth and seven points adrift of Getafe after just one win in their past four games, though victory over their bitter rivals on Saturday will surely restore belief and boost morale ahead of the run-in, particularly if Bordalas’ men fail to beat Valladolid.

However, Betis have won just one LaLiga match at Sevilla since 2012 – a remarkable 5-3 victory last season during Vincenzo Montella’s rather hapless period in charge at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.

Sevilla picking up a head of steam, but Valencia lurk

Since Joaquin Caparros replaced Pablo Machin as Sevilla coach for a third spell at the helm, Los Rojiblancos have won four of five LaLiga games to put them right back on the heels of Getafe, whom they face next week.

That momentum has them on track again following a dismal run, which saw them go from pacesetters in December to losing at rock-bottom Huesca and dropping out of the top four last month.

Their solitary defeat since Caparros’ return was to Valencia, who have enjoyed a remarkable rise up the table and are many people’s favourites to eventually finish fourth, even after their defeat to Rayo Vallecano.

Losing to Deportivo Alaves at the start of 2019 left Valencia 12th, but their subsequent 12-match unbeaten run propelled them right into Champions League contention, four points behind Getafe in sixth.

Alaves, Athletic Bilbao still in the hunt

Completing the queue behind Getafe are Alaves and Athletic, both of whom have also had intriguing seasons.

Similarly to Getafe, Alaves are by no means one of LaLiga’s traditional clubs, with this being only their ninth season in the top tier since the 1950s.

Yet they have been remarkably consistent this term, occupying a place between third and seventh – where they are ahead of Saturday’s trip to Espanyol – ever since the fifth matchday of the campaign.

Whereas Athletic looked in real danger of suffering a first ever relegation as recently as February, but Gaizka Garitano has steadied the ship in expert fashion.

Level with Betis on 43 points and having suffered only one defeat in their last five, few will be surprised if Athletic are pushing Getafe, Sevilla and Valencia at the end of the season.

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