LA LIGA returns on Thursday night as city rivals Sevilla and Real Betis lock horns. Tom Love (@TomLove_18) is on-hand to preview the match-up .
It’s a crying shame that this game will be played behind closed doors. It is the fiercest derby in Spain without a doubt (sorry Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad), and the fact it’s a one city rivalry makes it all the more intense. Two massive clubs in the city of Flamenco, hopefully the pair have their rhythm back after a long and unexpected hiatus.
I enjoyed reading Colin Millar’s book ‘The Frying Pan of Spain’ which excellently documents the deep hatred between the pair but also touched on the more humorous side of the clash. It’s a must read if you’re wanting to gain a greater insight between the two.
Sevilla are the original club of the city if you will, formed back in the 19th century. It was always seen as the white collar club of Seville whilst Betis is the working man's club.
Betis actually formed as a merger between Sevilla Balompié and themselves to create Real Betis Balompié in the early 19th century, they’re now just known as Real Betis to most. Often, the most interesting derbies have socioeconomic differences are the heart of it and this is no different in that regard.
There’s no doubt that the more successful of the duo has been Sevilla, with their five UEFA Cup/Europa League triumphs as well as Super Cup and Copa del Rey honours.
Betis tried to gain the upper hand in the late 1990’s whilst Sevilla were in financial ruin, Los Verdiblancos smashed the transfer record fee signing Brazilian Denilson from Sao Paolo. It was in vain though as Betis were relegated that season along with Sevilla.
The pair bounced back the season after and since then it has been Los Nervionenses who have once again dominated with Betis largely in the shadow despite boasting a larger stadium and crowds.
But it’s in the last 20 years or so you’ve seen the spiky nature of the rivalry really come to pass.
Back in 2002 a Sevilla fan ran on the pitch and assaulted the then Betis keeper Antonio Prats. A few years later the divisive figure of Juande Ramos, who actually managed both clubs, was struck on the head with a beer bottle at the Benito Villamarin by a Betis fan when Ramos was in the opposition dugout. It knocked the former Tottenham gaffer clean out and he was escorted straight to hospital with the game being abandoned.
Fast forward to the present day and it’s pretty much the same story as years gone by. Sevilla challenging for the Champions League places and Betis marooned in mid-table mediocrity. Wherever the pair are in the table it always makes for a fascinating game, the affect of no fans in the Ramón Sancheź Pizjuán will be a strange but intriguing emission.
Interestingly, there’s been some pressure on Sevilla head coach Julian Lopetegui even though his side are currently third in the league. There have been question marks over his style of play but you can’t knock the results he is getting.
However, this has been a very disappointing La Liga campaign with no sides standing out at the top of the table, all have their individual flaws. Maybe the Sevilla faithful don’t take too kindly to Lopetegui because of his connections with Real Madrid (did I mention Sevilla hate Real too?).
In the other dugout will be the more lesser known figure of Rubi. He had a fairly non-descript playing career in the lower divisions in Spain but has managed a lot of La Liga clubs in a relatively short period of time. It makes you wonder why the hierarchy at Betis chose him after short stints at Levante, Espanyol, Girona, Valladolid and Huesca.
To be fair, Rubi managed to get and unfancied Huesca side into the top division before leaving. I can’t imagine he will be at Betis for much longer as his record has been pretty average. He has come under fire a few times this season but he’s always managed to scrape a win when he needs it most, ultimately it’s not sustainable though and I wouldn’t be surprised if he and the club part ways if it’s a poor end to the campaign.
There is quality in this side though. Nabil Fekir was an eye-opening capture from Lyon and when fit he can be one of the best midfielders in the league. He’s supplemented in forward areas by the likes of Loren Morón, Sergio Canales, Christian Tello and the legendary figure of Joaquiń.
Betis probably should be doing better with what they have, but defensively they just haven’t been good enough for a few seasons and consistency has been a great difficulty for the Heliopolitanos.
Delving into the performance data, the hosts deserve their high standing, in fact only Real Madrid boast a better Expected Goals (xG) differential to Sevilla. They’re creating 1.70 xG per game whilst Betis are conceding a hefty 2.00 xG per game when on the road.
I’m surprised Sevilla are as big as 10/11 (Betway) to win here. I do think the lack of a crowd has been factored a bit too heavily into the prices. Betis have won just one away game in the league all season whereas Sevilla tend to dominate, especially on their home patch. Sevilla still have a lot to play for too whereas Betis are too far away from a tilt at a European place but are probably safe from relegation.
Of course, there’s a lot of unknowns here but I’m happy to take almost even-money on a home win here and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go off around 4/5. Perhaps the bookies are considering the possibility of this ending all-square with Sevilla drawing 5/13 at home and Betis drawing 6/13 on the road.
But if Sevilla bring their shooting boots they should have enough to get the win here. I rarely factor head to head records into any of my betting but I do give it a bit more credence in derby matches and Sevilla have won four of the last five at home against their rivals.
Sevilla captain Ever Banega is one of my favourite players in La Liga and I still don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. The Argentinian midfielder has been the beating heart of this side for a few years and he’s got the all-round game to be a top class central midfield operator. He is on the majority of set-pieces for Sevilla, including corners, and if you take a look at Sevilla, they actually rank as the highest team for corners per-game, with an average of 6.
With that in mind and the fact Sevilla have scored double figures from set pieces this season I can’t ignore the 11/2 with Boylesports on Banega to provide an assist. He tops the chart for the club in terms of assists with six in 22 starts. Going off that I’d make him a fair bit shorter than the 11/2 offered – some firms go shorther than 3/1 in fact.
Sevilla have the likes of Luuk De Jong and Youssef En-Nesyri who are both big strikers who can throw their weight about in the box, not to mention Jules Koundé and Diego Carlos from the back. It looks a value play to me.