El Gran Derbi of Seville: A duel for the city and for Europe

New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) The city of Seville is gearing up for the second Gran Derbi of this LaLiga Santander season. After the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Benito Villamarin in the first half of the campaign, it is now the turn of the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan to host El Gran Derbi, with much more than just pride at stake.

Both teams are in an interesting position in the league table, chasing European qualification at the same time as several other storylines promise to make this a fascinating game.

Sevilla FC will head into this match just a few days after the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Juventus at the same stadium. Two of the most important fixtures of the season will take place across a three-day span for Jose Luis Mendilibar, but Los Nervionenses are confident because the new coach has turned Sevilla FC’s form around. Of his eight LaLiga Santander games in charge of Sevilla FC, Mendilibar has won six, drawn one and lost one.

If just looking at the matchdays since Mendilibar’s debut, Sevilla FC would be leaders on 19 points, ahead of Atletico de Madrid (18 points in the same time) and ahead of FC Barcelona and Girona FC (17 points). This run of form has helped them move closer to the European qualification places for next season, after they had spent months worrying about the relegation zone.

Real Betis are also in good form, with two consecutive victories over teams that are also fighting to get into Europe. They won 1-0 at Athletic Club and then 3-1 at home to Rayo Vallecano in the past two matchdays and Manuel Pellegrini’s side’s six points in a row have them in sixth place in the table for now, which would earn them the right to play in the Europa League next season.

They can also still dream of fourth place and a Champions League ticket, but to keep that dream alive they must beat Sevilla FC at their stadium, a venue where Real Betis have only won once in their last nine visits, the spectacular 5-3 away win in the 2017/18 season.

Joaquin’s last derby

This Gran Derbi will also be Joaquin Sanchez’s last. The Real Betis winger has announced that he will retire at the end of the season, so he’ll visit the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan for the last time to play his 42nd match against Sevilla FC, if adding together the meetings he has had with them for all the clubs he has represented in his career. Since his first Gran Derbi, which was in LaLiga SmartBank on November 19, 2000, more than 20 years have passed and, in that time, he has set so many records in Spanish football.

This is a match that always has many sub-plots beyond the fact that it is a derby. In this case, it’s especially important because we’re at the business end of the season, in Matchday 35, when the points are more valuable and when the nerves and rivalries intensify.

With Mendilibar and Pellegrini in the dugouts and with players of the calibre of Jesus Navas, Sergio Canales, Lucas Ocampos and Borja Iglesias, we are once again guaranteed a spectacle in Seville.

–IANS

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