Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Sevilla – It is the hottest city in mainland Europe. Temperatures regularly reach 40°C in the summer and pavements bake and crack under the heat of the sun. Residents often move out of their homes during July and August and head to the slightly cooler coastal areas. Sevilla is the home of the sun … and two teams in La Liga with a fiery and passionate support. Both clubs have only won the league title once – Real Betis in 1935 and Sevilla in 1946 – but it’s Sevilla’s recent history in European competitions – two Uefa Cup wins and three Europa League wins in the past 11 years – that have set them apart in recent years.
On a relatively cool Saturday evening, the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan was red hot as the city rivals met in the first derby of the season. The stadium lights dimmed and the players emerged. Lights flashed, the Sevilla centenary anthem was sung – the stage was set. Vincenzo Montella – who was appointed Sevilla manager during the winter break – shook the hand of Quique Setien; both experiencing El Gran Derbi for the first time. La Liga haven’t chosen this as ‘the derby’ of Spanish football without reason – the moments before kickoff were a sight to behold.
The moments after kickoff were quite remarkable too. 22 seconds of quick Real Betis passing and then a goal. Fabian Ruiz broke through the Sevilla defence and fired a curling shot into the corner past a helpless Sergio Rico. The Sevilla defence was so static it was as if someone had forgotten to turn the stadium lights back on. It was the turn of the small congregation of Betis fans to make their voices heard. A much greater gang of them – 13,000 to be precise – had gone to Betis’ training ground on Friday to encourage their side to put in a performance. They got in the opening minute what they had demanded.
However, the early goal didn’t stifle Sevilla who found success by crossing into the penalty area and through set-pieces. Although their equaliser seemed to take a comparative age to arrive – Wissam Ben Yedder poked the ball past Antonio Adan in the 13th minute from a Sergio Escudero free-kick – it appeared that Sevilla were back on top and ready to dominate the match. What followed, however, was an entertaining game of you attack and we attack – more akin to basketball than football.
Zoudhair Feddal rose highest to head in a Joaquin free-kick to give the visitors the lead again half-way through the first half. But just before half-time Sevilla equalised again. Another cross, this time Sebastien Corchia provided it from the right-side, was knocked on by Franco Vazquez to Simon Kjaer who rose highest to head the ball into the Betis net. The scores equal at half-time. Fifteen minutes of rest, recuperation, and some chopping on homemade bocadillas – and that’s just the fans.
The start of the second-half wasn’t quite as full throttle in terms of goalmouth action but there was plenty of easy-on-the-eye attacking play and a couple of feisty tackles. As Gerry Armstrong remarked on sky sports commentary, “tackles and passion are always the fashion in the derby.” He certainly wasn’t wrong.
The goals returned just after the hour-mark – three in quick succession. Riza Durmisi arrived in acres of space at the back post to slot the ball past Rico and minutes later substitute Cristian Tello ran through the Sevilla midfield before threading the ball into the path of Sergio Leon who delicately touched the ball beyond the Sevilla goalkeeper. A two-goal advantage for the first time in the evening – surely that was that.
No. Another cross, another header, and another goal for Sevilla. Clement Lenglet gave the home side hope. They pushed further in an attempt to get the equaliser with 15 minutes left to play but Betis hung on. Their slither of support sung nonstop. It took 22 seconds for the opening goal and with 20 seconds left to play of additional time, Betis broke. Cristian Tello – with pace and strength – ran with incision and kept his composure to slot the ball past the backtracking Sergio Rico who moments early found himself in the Betis penalty area. The match had started with a goal and ended with one. What happened in-between was pure craziness.
Sevilla’s unbeaten home run, starting way back in November 2016, had come to an end in the first game of 2018 and by their local rivals. The ebullient Betis veteran Joaquin was in his usual jovial mood – when asked by a Gol journalist post-match whether it was now time to rest, Joaquin’s head shook immediately, “No,” he said, “Any of us who gets home earlier than 5am will be fined.” Betis’ exceptional run of being involved in high-scoring games continues – the work of Quique Setien continues to entertain La Liga.
Vincenzo Montella said post-match that there were plenty of positives to take, such as the ability “to keep the ball.” Surprisingly Sevilla did dominate the match at large but Betis thrived on the counter-attack. “I know Sevilla live for these games and there’s a lot of sadness,” Montella remarked. “We have to work hard, but I also know that Sevilla have to be more united than ever.” Many left the stadium dazed, some longing for another winter break just to recover. The best derby in many a year, many felt. Montella’s first match in La Liga couldn’t have been crazier.
Los Otros Puntos
- The afternoon at Camp Nou began with Barcelona’s €105 million signing making his full home La Liga debut and ended with their new €160 million signing posing in a Blaugrana shirt in front of the cameras. In between was a routine victory against a Levante side who hadn’t won in the league since mid-November. The hosts took a little while to warm up but soon scored the opener – Leo Messi played a fine one-two with Jordi Alba before the Argentine volleyed the ball past Oier in the 12th minute. The goal signalled the expected start of the domination of Ernesto Valverde’s side who controlled the rest of the half and doubled their lead on 38 minutes as Luis Suarez smashed home the ball, via a slight deflection, after being found in the box by Sergi Roberto. The second-half was mainly played in second gear – Suarez had a few chances to extend their advantage but Oier was in good form in the Levante net. Shaquell Moore should have got a goal back for the visitors but his effort was denied by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Messi danced through the Levante defence in the 3rd minute of added time before teeing up Paulinho for an easy finish.
- Raphael’s fine 1968 hit ‘Mi Gran Noche’ blared out of the Balaidos speakers as the players shook hands before kickoff and for Celta Vigo it was a great night – a draw against Real Madrid but it could have been so much more for the Galicians. Iago Aspas struck the post early on as Celta dominated for much of the opening period – their attack of Aspas, Pione Sisto, and Maxi Gomez once again showing their quality. Celta got the goal that they deserved just after the half-hour mark – Marcelo, far too advanced for a full-back, allowed Daniel Wass plenty of room to control the ball and lob Keylor Navas. But their lead only lasted for three minutes as Gareth Bale – starting his first La Liga match since September – tucked the ball into Ruben Blanco’s net. Another – for Bale and Real – followed minutes later. However, Celta rallied and got a well-earned draw – Wass, who was superb all-night and left to a standing ovation, crossed for Gomez who headed past Navas. Again Madrid’s defending was questionable and considering Celta missed a penalty and were unlucky to not receive another, Zinedine Zidane’s men were fortunate to leave with the point.
- Paco Jemez’s return to La Liga and Las Palmas was going so well – a 1-0 lead with just over 15 minutes left to play against an Eibar side that have impressed recently – and then, in true character, it ended sourly. Jonathan Viera’s first-half penalty was nothing more than a consolation by full-time. Fabian Orellana – on his La Liga debut for Eibar – got the equaliser before Sergi Enrich ensured the Basques left with three points. Las Palmas remained bottom and Jemez’s task looks harder by the day.
- There was also a comeback at Mestalla. Girona took the lead through Cristian Portu when he nodded home Johan Mojica’s cross in the 9th minute. But Valencia managed to win their first match in four competitive games – Jonas Ramlho turned the ball into his own net before Dani Parejo scored from the penalty spot just after half-time.
- Anyone playing Diego Costa bingo must have surely got a full-house when he made his La Liga return for Atletico Madrid against Getafe on Saturday – a goal, an argument in the tunnel at half-time, a yellow card for an elbow, a red card and suspension.
Atletico Madrid 2–0 Getafe
Valencia 2–1 Girona
Las Palmas 1–2 Eibar
Sevilla 3–5 Real Betis
Leganes 1–0 Real Sociedad
Barcelona 3–0 Levante
Villarreal 1–1 Deportivo
Athletic Bilbao 2–0 Alaves
Celta Vigo 2–2 Real Madrid
Malaga – Espanyol to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Daniel Wass (Celta Vigo)
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