Seville derby: High-flying Real Betis finally close to challenging supremacy of a Sevilla struggling for identity

By Sports Desk November 06, 2021

For Real Betis, the past 15 years haven't been the easiest. They've been relegated from LaLiga twice and failed to secure a first return to the Champions League since 2004-05, while just a few kilometres north, their bitter rivals Sevilla have enjoyed the greatest period in their existence.

Sevilla have won six UEFA Cup/Europa League titles, a couple of Copa del Rey crowns, the European Super Cup and qualified for the Champions League eight times.

Back in January 2018, the winds of change appeared to sweep through Seville. Betis were 5-3 winners at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in an astonishing, historic match.

Sevilla hadn't lost any of their previous 29 home matches, a run that stretched back to 2016, and were unbeaten in eight editions of Spain's fiercest derby. But on the day, Quique Setien's men were as irresistible going forward as the hosts were hopeless at the back.

Betis went on to finish sixth in the table, one place above a Sevilla side that went through three coaches over the course of the season. It was their first campaign without famed sporting director Monchi and without him they struggled massively for direction.

This was arguably the most vulnerable their status among Spain's top clubs had been since returning to LaLiga in 2001-02, yet they largely managed to weather the storm and Monchi's return restored much-needed stability. Betis, on the other hand, finished 10th and 15th in the following two campaigns, the promising early work of Setien proving something of a false dawn.

But once again there is an aura about Betis, and success in Sunday's Gran Derbi would really show they mean business.

Fun but flawed

Manuel Pellegrini's reputation in some quarters may have taken a bit of a bashing after a fairly underwhelming spell at West Ham, but it was going to take something drastic for him to be written off in Spain given the miracles he worked at Villarreal earlier this century.

It's fair to say things have gone well at the Benito Villamarin for the Chilean, with their sixth-placed finish in 2020-21 ensuring a return to the Europa League and they've started 2021-22 in fine fashion as well.

In fact, their record in 2021 is especially startling. They have lost just six of 42 matches across all competitions this year – across the top five European leagues, only Inter have been defeated less often.

While this Betis may not provide quite the same thrill ride as Setien's from a few years back, they're certainly among LaLiga's greatest entertainers this season.

The personnel available to Pellegrini gives Betis the technical capability to knock the ball around well but they're arguably at their most comfortable when getting the ball forward quickly, with their 26 direct attacks second only to Real Madrid (28) this season.

This coupled with the high quality of the individuals they possess in attack makes them one of the more threatening teams going forward, with their 13.0 expected goals (xG) from open play only bettered by Madrid (15.5), Barcelona (14.7) and – fractionally – Sevilla (13.1).

 

They are also efficient pressers. While their 79 high turnovers may only be the seventh highest in LaLiga this term, their 24 shots from such situations is at least four more than anyone else – these haven't led to any goals yet, but it's a positive sign that they appear pick their moments to increase the pressure well.

 

But conversely, one of the other reasons that Betis matches are so entertaining to watch is that they're not particularly solid at the back, as Thursday's 4-0 Europa League hammering by Bayer Leverkusen showed.

Now, this can potentially be explained by their attack-first mentality, but it should be a cause for concern in the long run if they cannot fix it, especially if they do harbour hopes of finishing in the top four.

Their 11.8 expected goals against (xGA) in open play is the third-worst in LaLiga and almost double Sevilla's respective record (6.2), and that probably doesn't bode well for a derby that can be open and frantic.

The Leverkusen loss came just a few days after Betis were also particularly poor defensively against Atletico Madrid, a 3-0 defeat in which they barely laid a glove on the defending champions.

And perhaps therein lies the biggest psychological barrier of all ahead of Sevilla's visit. Under Pellegrini, Betis have won none and lost seven of their 10 matches against their neighbours, Madrid, Atletico and Barca.

A win on Sunday will move them level on 24 points with Sevilla, who head into the weekend only a point off the top, but arguably more important than anything is that defeating Julen Lopetegui's men might finally show they can rise to the challenge of the league's best teams.

Beauty and the beast

When on song, there are few players in LaLiga more thrilling to watch than Nabil Fekir. Betis fans probably pinch themselves that he's still at the Benito Villamarin – to be honest, the very fact they managed to sign him in the first place was pretty remarkable.

Ignoring the petulance that saw him sent off in Leverkusen, Fekir's made a very lively start to 2021-22, which made it even more astonishing that Pellegrini opted to rest him against Atletico. Now, he was only one booking away from a suspension that would've ruled him out of the derby, but still.

Of course, his talents are nothing new to many, but he's proving what an asset he is with his form at the moment.

His 33 chances created is the second-most in LaLiga after Iker Muniain's (39), with the Frenchman both effective in open play and set-pieces, with these opportunities amounting to 2.7 expected assists, second only to Memphis Depay (4.5).

 

In open play is when Fekir's at his most useful for Betis, though, with his exceptional close control and dribbling skills able to open up spaces and situations that others can't. He's completed 29 dribbles this term – Javi Galan (30), Yannick Carrasco (31) and Vinicius Junior (33) are the three with more.

He's also attempted the third-most shots (34) in the league, though his one-goal haul (2.1 xG) suggests he might be better off showing a little more restraint.

But while Betis are undoubtedly a side that's easy on the eye with the likes of Fekir and Sergio Canales on the pitch, they've also got someone adept at doing the dirty work.

Guido Rodriguez has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence since moving from Club America in January last year, with the Argentina international's trademark bite and tenacity quickly becoming a key element for Betis.

A tall and strong defensive midfielder, Rodriguez has great presence without the ball. Even if he doesn't necessarily win the ball back himself, his willingness to get stuck in gives Betis real steel in the middle and makes him a formidable opponent.

He may not possess the passing ability of William Carvalho, but he's a considerably greater defensive presence, with Rodriguez averaging 3.1 tackle attempts per 90 minutes since the start of last season – among players to play at least 1,000 minutes in that time, only two players have been more forceful than him.

He also ranks in the top 10 among the same players for possession won (7.7) each match. There really is more to Betis than just the craftiness of Fekir.

Sevilla lacking soul

Betis' midfield could be the key on Sunday. While it's in this area of the pitch with players like Rodriguez and Fekir that they thrive, midfield is probably Sevilla's weakest area.

While Fernando was excellent for much of last season and Joan Jordan was solid enough as a No.8 a little in front, Lopetegui muddled through the campaign without ever really figuring out what to do with that third – the most advanced – midfield position.

Ivan Rakitic was usually the one to play there, but Oscar Rodriguez, Papu Gomez and Oliver Torres were also all used there to minimal success. But while that didn't really look like much of a problem last season, there's been little to suggest Lopetegui's fixed the issue, and it's been exacerbated by Jordan going through a drip – the Spaniard has seemed less influential, with his touches dropping from 88.1 each game to 74.4.

Lopetegui has come under fire from some supporters this season for the football they've played, which has looked especially monotonous in the Champions League, but let's not forget they could feasibly go into the international break top of the table, and they do have their strengths.

They may not engage in exhilarating high pressing, with their 46 high turnovers comfortably (by 10) the lowest in the division, but with the likes of Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are pretty adept at evade their opponent's attempts to press, as evidenced by the fact their 66 high turnovers against is the fourth-lowest.

 

Similarly, while their forward line may not trigger a high press, once their opponents get into midfield, they are extremely persistent. There have only been four instances of teams managing to string together 10 or more passes that lead to either a shot or touch in the box against Sevilla, the best such record in the division.

 

But in possession, this is a Sevilla side that lacks identity. While they like to dominate the ball, with their 6,011 passes this season third to Barcelona (6,899) and Madrid (6,173), they're hardly masters of 'tiki-taka'.

Their 40 sequences of 10 or more passes is the third-highest in LaLiga, but they've yet to score a goal in that manner. When they go direct, they're far more efficient, with 13 – which is below average in itself – direct attacks yielding three goals.

It could be argued that the playmaker they're missing is all that's preventing Lopetegui turning Sevilla into a truly excellent team.

Betis will hope something doesn't suddenly click this weekend as they look to overcome a significant mental barrier.

Related items

  • Galatasaray interested in signing Spartak Moscow, Jamaica striker Nicholson Galatasaray interested in signing Spartak Moscow, Jamaica striker Nicholson

    Top Turkish club Galatasaray are rumoured to be interested in acquiring the services of Jamaica international Shamar Nicholson.

    The 25-year-old forward only recently secured a move to Russian club Spartak Moscow last summer from Belgian team Charleroi FC for 8m euros and has a contract until 2026.

    The current situation with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which has led to the club being suspended from all European competition, could see the player being allowed to leave the team.

    Initially, the club had expressed an interest in both Mauro Icardi, who was expected to leave PSG, and Andrea Belotti, who left Torino, but either deal materialised.  So far this season, Nicholson has played 98 minutes in 3 games but failed to score a goal.

    Last season, Nicholson, who played a total of 34 matches with Charleroi and Spartak Moscow jerseys, scored 21 goals and made 7 assists.

  • Tuchel backs Gallagher and Hudson-Odoi to fight for minutes at Chelsea Tuchel backs Gallagher and Hudson-Odoi to fight for minutes at Chelsea

    Thomas Tuchel has backed Conor Gallagher and Callum Hudson-Odoi to fight their way into first-team contention at Chelsea. 

    However, the Blues boss was philosophical when asked whether either England international could leave in the transfer window, adding: "Nobody is for sale, and everybody is for sale."

    Gallagher appeared as a late substitute in Chelsea's opening-day Premier League win over Everton last week, while Hudson-Odoi was absent from the Blues' squad at Goodison Park.

    Both players have been linked with moves away due to the competition for places at Stamford Bridge, with Hudson-Odoi a reported target for Borussia Dortmund and Gallagher widely admired after racking up eight Premier League goals and three assists on loan at Crystal Palace last term.

    While Tuchel recognises N'Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic represent stern competition for Gallagher, he wants to see him realise his undoubted promise at Chelsea.

    "Conor fights in central midfield," Tuchel said ahead of Sunday's Premier League clash with Tottenham. "To be honest, it is a very tough fight for him because, at the moment, it seems we only have two places in central midfield. 

    "Given the amount of players we have for central midfield, it isn't ideal, I agree. But we have to do what's best for the squad, not just for each individual player.

    "But at the moment, he is absolutely fine. I am a huge fan of Conor. He is a fantastic guy, and this is what we already knew, in the first weeks of training, he has shown how much of a step he has made through having so much playing time.

    "It is a very, very normal situation and his development is that at the moment, after some fantastic training sessions in the beginning, there is a little dip in his form and freshness. 

    "On top of that, there's a huge competition with N'Golo, Jorgi and Kova, who are used to playing with each other. 

    "This is also life in a big club like Chelsea, so everything is in its right place. We are happy with him. He keeps on fighting, and this is what he does. I think he has everything to become very important in the next years at Chelsea."

    Hudson-Odoi has been linked with a move to the Bundesliga on several occasions, having only started 32 Premier League games for Chelsea since his 2018 debut, but Tuchel is also keen to hold onto him.

    "Callum is the same. He had a long-term injury and long-term problems to overcome," Tuchel said. "I think he still has a way to go to live up to his potential. His potential is huge. 

    "I think having Raheem [Sterling] in can give him an extra boost to step up and see what's needed in these kinds of positions to reach the levels he can honestly reach. 

    "But at the moment, he is our player, and he needs to fight, fight, fight. I have nothing more to say."

    But with over two weeks remaining in the transfer window, Tuchel refused to rule out a change in the club's strategy.

    "In general, nobody is for sale,", Tuchel added. "Nobody is for sale, and everybody is for sale. 

    "It depends on what the player wants, how bad the player wants it, what we think about who is ready to pay a certain amount of money, and then maybe everybody is for sale."

  • Premier League data dive: Man Utd hit 30-year low as outstanding Jesus downs Foxes Premier League data dive: Man Utd hit 30-year low as outstanding Jesus downs Foxes

    The second Saturday of the new Premier League campaign did not disappoint, serving up a thrilling comeback, a spectacular home debut and a familiar sinking feeling for Manchester United supporters.

    If last week's 2-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion represented a baptism of fire for Erik ten Hag, United's trip to Brentford provided further despair as the dismal Red Devils hit a 30-year low.

    There was more joy for rivals Manchester City as they cruised to a 4-0 win over Bournemouth, while Gabriel Jesus made good on his pre-season promise with a dominant performance against Leicester City.

    Here, Stats Perform trawls through Opta's data to bring you some of the best numbers from the day's Premier League action.

    Brentford 4-0 Manchester United: Ten Hag matches unwanted Chapman record against brilliant Bees

    Where do you start with this one? New United boss Ten Hag was left in no doubt regarding the side's problems when a Pascal Gross double sent them crashing to an opening-day defeat last week.

    But not even the most pessimistic United follower could have predicted their collapse in west London, as Ten Hag became the first Red Devils manager to lose his first two games at the helm since John Chapman in November 1921.

    Things got off to a dreadful start when David de Gea let Josh Dasilva's shot squirm into the net after 10 minutes; since the start of the 2018-19 season, only Jordan Pickford (11) has made more errors leading to Premier League goals than the Spaniard.

    Mathias Jensen, Ben Mee and Bryan Mbeumo joined Dasilva on the scoresheet by the 35th minute as Brentford scored with their first four shots on target, while Cristiano Ronaldo cut a dejected figure on his return to the United team.

    Only two teams had previously scored four first-half goals against United in a Premier League game; Tottenham in October 2020 and Liverpool in October 2021.

    The result is that United have begun a top-flight campaign with back-to-back defeats for the first time since 1992-93, the Premier League's inaugural season.

    And while the table has not quite taken shape two games in, United ended the day bottom of the Premier League for the first time since August 21, 1992.

    Arsenal 4-2 Leicester City: Miraculous home debut for Jesus

    Another side with Champions League ambitions has made a far brighter start to the Premier League season, as Mikel Arteta's Arsenal made it two consecutive wins with an entertaining victory over Leicester.

    Former Manchester City forward Jesus was hailed as a coup for the Gunners when he arrived in the off-season, and he enjoyed a home debut to remember by scoring two goals and adding two assists.

    In doing so, the Brazilian became the first player to score multiple goals on his home Premier League bow for Arsenal, as well as the first Gunners player to double up for goals and assists in a single league game since Theo Walcott against Newcastle in December 2012 (three goals, two assists).

    Before Jesus assisted compatriot Gabriel Martinelli for Arsenal's fourth goal, he became the 12th different Brazilian to score in the Premier League for Arsenal – the most of any side in the competition's history.

    Jesus was not the only player to impress, however, with Granit Xhaka both scoring and assisting in the same match for the first time in an Arsenal shirt, 252 games into his Gunners career.

    Leicester, meanwhile, were subjected to a familiar feeling of frustration in north London – this was the sixth time they have conceded at least four goals in a Premier League game against Arsenal.

    Manchester City 4-0 Bournemouth: Champions cruise despite quiet day for Haaland

    Home teams hitting four goals seemed to be a theme of the day, as Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions followed up a win at West Ham by cruising past Bournemouth.

    Scott Parker's team were likely not expecting a result at the Etihad Stadium; City have now won all 11 of their Premier League matches against Bournemouth, the best 100 per cent winning record against a particular team in the competition's history.

    A Jefferson Lerma own goal came after strikes from Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, as the Cherries made it 17 league matches without a win against City in their history – the most one side has faced another without a victory in English league history.

    Kevin De Bruyne was at his creative best for City, scoring his 16th league goal since the start of last season before teeing up Foden's strike.

    The Belgian has both scored and assisted in 20 separate Premier League matches since his September 2015 debut. Only Mohamed Salah (24) and Son Heung-min (21) have done so on more occasions in that time.

    But while City were rampant, new talisman Haaland was quiet. The Norwegian only managed eight touches and two successful passes, but still managed to make an impact.

    One of Haaland's passes was from kick-off, the other teed up Gundogan to score the first goal.

    Southampton 2-2 Leeds United: Saints manage rare comeback as Aribo opens account

    Elsewhere, Jesse Marsch's Leeds failed to make it two wins from two as Southampton launched a stirring comeback on the south coast.

    Rodrigo was on the scoresheet in a win over Wolves last week before hitting a brace at St Marys, making him the first player to score three goals in Leeds' first two games of a Premier League season since Alan Smith in 2000-01.

    But Leeds could not hold on, failing to win after going two goals ahead for only the second time in their last 36 Premier League games, and for the first time in 14 such contests (since a 3-3 draw with Charlton Athletic in May 2004).

    Southampton have now avoided defeat in two of the last five Premier League games where they have gone two goals down (also a 2-2 draw against Brighton in April), but their love of a comeback is a new characteristic.

    Before April, the Saints had only managed one win and one draw from the last 58 Premier League games in which they went two goals behind.

    Joe Aribo represents one of their most impressive additions following his arrival from Rangers, and his goal made him the first Nigerian to score in the Premier League for Southampton, as well as the 38th in the competition's history overall.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.