On June 11, 2020, the 2019/20 La Liga season finally returned after a long wait. After the devastating pandemic that put the whole world on pause, the situation has stabilized to the point where things can slowly return to normal. At the beginning of May, the Bundesliga in Germany became the first of Europe’s Top Five leagues to resume play, and now La Liga has become the second. The following week, both the English Premier League and Serie A in Italy also came back, with France’s Ligue 1, unfortunately, canceling their season back in April. While football is returning, all is not back to normal, as there are still major safety procedures in effect. The most impactful of these requires all games to be played behind closed doors, allowing no fans in stadium attendance. Despite that, it’s exciting to see that at least football is back.
La Liga has kicked off with Sevilla hosting their most heated rivals, Real Betis, at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in 2020’s first edition of the Seville Derby. By mere coincidence, the Seville Derby is possibly the most fitting occasion to see Spanish top-flight football return.
In a rivalry dating back to the 1910s, both Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompie have fought each other every year to establish themselves as the best team in the Andalusian city of Seville in Southern Spain. While both clubs started humbly, Sevilla eventually rose head-and-shoulders above their cross-town neighbors. By the 2000s and 2010s, they solidified their place as one of the best teams in Europe, capped off by their historic three-consecutive UEFA Europa League victories from 2014 to 2016 and consistently high finishes in La Liga.
Real Betis on the other hand, were long known as perennial underachievers in Spanish football, going long periods of time without winning any trophies. However, Betis have risen to new heights since the beginning of the 2010s, becoming La Liga regulars and even qualifying for the Europa League in 2013 and 2018. Over the past few years, both Sevilla and Betis have been two of the best and most exciting teams in Spain, possessing some of the most talented attacking players in the division as well.
Going into this match, Sevilla sit at third place on 47 points in the La Liga table while Real Betis are 12th with 33 points. Had the season not been halted due to the pandemic, all logic would have pointed to a Sevilla victory. Sevilla have arguably been the best team in La Liga this season besides Barcelona, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, while Real Betis have been widely inconsistent. Sevilla also have the home advantage.
However, with this season being particularly unusual, nothing is certain. With no fans (and instead a massive electronic board, along with speakers playing “crowd noises”), the home advantage has been rendered useless. As the Bundesliga has shown, playing at home or away relatively makes no difference. Also, with all these players having not played a football match since March, there is uncertainty about each team’s fitness. Not to mention that, even if the season was stopped, this a derby match between two old rivals. Amidst the hatred and animosity, all stats go out the window, so Sevilla’s win may not be as guaranteed.
Post-Match Analysis: Sevilla 2-0 Real Betis
In La Liga’s first match since its glorious return, Sevilla come out as convincing winners over their historic rivals Real Betis. In a game that started off rather choppy and disjointed, both sides tried to feel out their opponent while shaking off the rust from almost three months of no football.
In the first half, both teams were very strong in defense yet mostly flat in attack. With that said, Sevilla was the team who made the most of their possession and really pressured the Betis backline. In the first minutes of the match, Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla’s best player this season) was able to wiggle through Betis’ penalty box and slam home a shot from a tight angle, catching the defense off guard. Fortunately for Betis, the shot clipped the crossbar and flew over. As the game went on, Betis were unable to play out the back, and thus their attackers weren’t able to get on the ball. Throughout the entire first half, Borja Iglesias, Cristian Tello and Nabil Fekir barely even touched the ball. That being said, the defense, led by Marc Bartra, held their line very well throughout the entire match, restricting Sevilla to chances mostly from set-pieces. This is evident through Sevilla’s next chance in the first half, where Jules Kounde was unable to direct a loose ball in the air past the right side of the post.
Once the second half started, Sevilla’s attack started to really click into form, and they began to overwhelm the Betis defense. After a corner sent the ball into the box, the referee awarded a penalty to Sevilla, saying that Marc Bartra had impeded Luuk de Jong from getting to the ball while they were both jumping in the air for a header. The decision was controversial as the contact on de Jong was light, but nonetheless, Bartra was shown a yellow card and Ocampos stepped up to take the penalty. Ocampos slotted home his shot, giving Sevilla a deserved 1-0 lead.
From there on, Sevilla continued to get into good positions and force Betis far back into their own half. After another corner, Ocampos again found himself in the middle of the action with a cheeky backheel flick in midair, setting up Fernando to head home the ball into the face of the goal and sending Sevilla 2-0 up. From there, Sevilla was comfortably in the lead, and they had earned some breathing room. With time running out, Rubi — the manager of Real Betis — came to the realization that there is a good chance his team would lose this game and utilized his substitutions. The introduction of Joaquin and Diego Lainez pumped new energy into the Betis attack, and now they were the ones on the front foot. Betis’ best chance of the match came when Joaquin received the ball on the edge of the box and curled in a finessed shot. Luckily for Sevilla, Diego Carlos was able to elastically clear the shot off the line, ensuring a clean sheet for goalkeeper, Tomas Vaclik.
While Betis gave Sevilla a late push, it was ultimately not enough, and Sevilla declared themselves champions of the latest edition of the Seville Derby. As of now, Sevilla are on 50 points as Julen Lopetegui’s men look to ensure a Champions League spot while staying at third. Betis remain on 33 points as any hope to return to the Europa League looks like a goal too optimistic to achieve. In the end, both teams showed signs of rustiness as expected. However, of the two, Sevilla seemed much more prepared and far more determined.
The Man of Match award must go to one man only, and that is, by far, Lucas Ocampos. With his goal and an audacious assist, he proved to be the difference for Sevilla and was a thorn in the Betis’ side the entire night.