Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Sevilla – This was El Gran Derbi in more ways than one. The fight for pride, which is always there to be played for when Sevilla and Real Betis meet, was accompanied by the need for points to claim a place in Europe for next season. Full of emotion, heart, sweat and passion from start to end, this derby victory was fought for and came as a result of the odd goal in five. And what goals they were too. Golazos are what they are called and each of them arrived, somewhat against the run of play each time, but in some fashion.

Munir El-Haddadi headed elegantly from a Pablo Sarabia cross, Gio Lo Celso finished first time with a low side-footed drive, Sarabia completed a superb Sevilla counter with a volleyed finish, Ever Banega set up Franco Vazquez for a rip-roaring shot from distance before Christian Tello completed the scoring with a pin-point free-kick into the top corner. The quality was quite amazing.

The image, though, that most will take from this match will be a tussle on the near touchline. Not a fisticuffs, no rather a footballing tussle filled with desire and perseverance. A 50-50 ball was contented by Joaquin of Betis and Jesus Navas of Sevilla, both playing one of the final derbies of their careers. Joaquin is 37 whilst Navas is 33, but the aggression and will to win for their clubs was apparent and felt like something you would see from teenagers when they’re starting out.

In many ways, it is what this derby is and always has been about; if you show your work ethic, your feelings and love for the club then chances are, you will be liked. Joaquin and Navas have both returned to their boyhood clubs and are symbols of them too. What they display is what they are: hard-workers and decent individuals with character and quality. The fact that both are still not only playing but also affecting the derby is testament to themselves.

In the end though, it was Navas and his teammates celebrating. “Sevilla reign in the derby!” claimed one headline. “Sevilla kings of the Saturday passion,” shouted another. And the result was deserved, they were the better side, and it was quite fitting that the week in which coach Joaquin Caparros announced his diagnosis with chronic leukemia he ended it triumphant over the city rivals. But this was a triumph of three points and pride combined. Sevilla, with the win, took fourth spot – the spot that six teams are vying for – and with Getafe only managing a draw against Valladolid, it is there’s to keep for at least a week.

The fight for the top four is the most intriguing aspect of the latter stages of this season’s La Liga. Getafe and Alaves are the two smaller teams fighting for a place that few can believe they are so close to, although they are thoroughly deserved. The more established Valencia and Athletic Bilbao have improved their fortunes since the winter break to mount a challenge on the top four too. Yet with this defeat Betis are now most certainly on the periphery of European qualification but with six matches still to play, they will feel they still have a chance.

Betis had their moments in this derby, the first 25 minutes or so where there’s without a doubt. The visitors were pressing high and forcing Sevilla back, a misjudgment by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik almost cost the hosts and given he was not fully fit may have raised questions over Caparros’s selection. Fortunately it didn’t come to anything and the Sevilla goalkeeper was able to redeem himself later in the match. Sevilla’s opener came against the run of play but once Munir headed in, it was the hosts who had the clearer ideas. The game felt as if it came as a consequence of the goals rather than the other way round, anyhow it made for compelling viewing.

The game lacked control and the goals coming against the run of play highlighted that, Betis kept going and until the final whistle there was a threat of an equaliser. There were nerves, as expected given the jeopardy of a derby. “The fans carried us through in spite of suffering a bit at the end,” Sarabia said post-match. “The derbies are different parties,” was an eloquent statement of his and one which all would agree with.

Betis’ equaliser 10 minutes into the second half came from more direct play; Junior Firpo’s ball was swept past Pau Lopez superbly by Lo Celso. Quique Setien’s side have had two major problems this campaign: one being the lack of a striking force – they have scored 38 goals which is comparatively lower than their competitors – and secondly, and to an extent a reason for that, is their build-up play has been too long and not as penetrating. Whereas last season they were quick and sharp, countering and pouncing, this time around they have seemed more inhibited and reluctant to go at goal more directly.

Then Sevilla took a hold, scoring twice through Sarabia’s first-time finish and Vazquez’s rip-roaring shot. The game was never dead though as even before Betis scored a late consolation goal, they were testing Sevilla. They had to, their chances of European competition next season requires more points and taking them from a rival would have been all the sweeter. When Joaquin came off the bench in the derby earlier in the season, he scored with not only his first touch of the game but also his first of the season. It won it for Betis then, but here he couldn’t have the same impact.

“Sevilla do a lot of damage to you with very little,” Joaquin said afterwards and it’s difficult not to agree with him. This was Sevilla’s fourth win in five since Caparros has taken over from Pablo Machin and there is the argument that whereas Machin was trying to hard to bring his own style to the club, Caparros – a club-man if ever there was one – has just given the players free-reign. Thus naturally they are now effective through their own means. If Sevilla qualify for the Champions League then the decision to get rid of Machin will have been vindicated in the eyes of many, but the question still remains as to how Sevilla are going to develop in the short-term, where is the plan?

On Saturday evening though, few cared about that. The Sanchez-Pizjuan had close to 43,000 supporters inside and the atmosphere was part bear-pit, part party. The goals were like elevators taking the supporters to a higher level each time. Sevilla are now in the driving seat for Europe. “Sevilla dream of Champions League after a glorious derby,” read the front cover of AS. For them, this was El Gran Derbi in more ways than one.

Los Otros Puntos

The scoreboard indicated Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata’s two goals had won this game for Atletico Madrid against Celta Vigo, but in truth the victory came – not for the first time – due to Jan Oblak. His saves are one of the major reasons why Atletico are in second place, nine points behind Barcelona. “Obli, Oblak, cada dia te quiero mas!” sang the Atletico supporters to the tune of the Gypsy Kings’ Djobi, Djoba – everyday they certainly must love him more. “He is the best goalkeeper in the world,” Diego Simeone said afterwards. “We are fortunate that he chooses to play at Atleti.” It wasn’t only the home manager praising Oblak: “We have to congratulate Oblak, he was the best for them,” said Fran Escriba.

Todibo, Murillo, Wague, Malcom, Alena and Riqui Puig – one would have been excused for believing that these were the names of Huesca players rather than Barcelona ones before Saturday’s match. It was clear from the starting line-up and 10 changes which Ernesto Valverde made, that La Blaugrana were more concerned with their return leg against Manchester United on Tuesday. The youngest Barcelona starting XI since 1995 (24 years, 133 days) couldn’t get the better of a stubborn Huesca who will look back on this result fondly irrespective of the changes Barcelona made.

Getafe were winning after 14 minutes but behind after 70 against Valladolid. They were still behind in the fifth minute of stoppage time, but Jorge Molina scored from the penalty spot to grab a draw for Jose Bordalas’s side. Although it was not the win that they would have undoubtedly gone into the match wanting, the point keeps them in touch with Sevilla in fourth, who they face next.

It was a crucial win for Villarreal who move out of the bottom three and to within a point of opponents Girona in fourteenth.

It was derbies galore this weekend in La Liga: Valencia won the Valencia derby against Levante whilst Real Sociedad drew with Eibar in the Gipuzkoan derby at Anoeta.

Los Resultados

Espanyol 2-1 Alaves

Huesca 0-0 Barcelona

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Celta Vigo

Sevilla 3-2 Real Betis

Valladolid 2-1 Getafe

Athletic 3-2 Rayo Vallecano

Real Sociedad 1-1 Eibar

Girona 0-1 Villarreal

Valencia 3-1 Levante

Leganes – Real Madrid to be played on Monday

La Clasificación

La Liga Analysis