In a lively evening of football, La Liga made its return as Sevilla beat Real Betis in El Gran Derbi at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
The stands were empty but the pitch was full of quality as Julen Lopetegui’s men picked up a huge win. What did we learn?
1. Lucas Ocampos has finally arrived
Lucas Ocampos’ frustrating career and inability to make good on his stunning skill-set has been frustrating, but this season under Julen Lopetegui he has been playing some of the best football of his career and the derbi against Betis was the most emphatic statement possible that he arrives in 2020 as a player ready to take his talents to where his potential has always been heading.
10 league goals was already a career-high but Ocampos still opened the scoring coolly from the penalty spot. The spot-kick was a controversial award but he dispatched it with absolutely zero hesitation (making this his fifth consecutive La Liga match with a goal). It was a just reward for a player who had been the brightest spark of the game, driving at Betis every time he had the ball, rocketing a ball off the woodwork and having more shots than anyone else on the pitch.
Of course none of that was even the highlight of his performance, which was his outrageous backheeled assist for Sevilla’s second. He met a corner at the near-post and with the deftest flick of his boot (to prove he’s not all blood and thunder) flicked the ball through the gap in the Sevilla defence and into the path of Fernando who gleefully headed home.
Lucas Ocampos' game by numbers vs. Real Betis:
100% aerial duels won (2/2)
6 take-ons attempted
5 tackles made
2 take-ons completed
2 chances created
2 shots on target
2 fouls won
He does everything… everywhere. pic.twitter.com/Iupr6FMzZy
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 11, 2020
La Liga is back, and Lucas Ocampos brought it back with a bang.
2. Betis a bag of hammers
Real Betis are a frustrating side; because they’re capable of giving Barcelona a massive scare and beating Real Madrid, but never really got going against Sevilla despite having all the pieces to be a genuine threat to rivals Sevilla.
Barring a small spell after Joaquin came off the bench, Betis never really looked like scoring the few chances they were able to create. Nabil Fekir and Emerson never managed to get their double act going, Sergio Canales was adventurous but non-threatening, and Borja Iglesias was a total non-event. Rubi’s men were a bag of hammers, all ornately carved and polished, but there’s not a single nail in that bag and so absolutely zero impact being created.
3. Sevilla’s latest Ligue 1 studs
Sevilla have always been a club that “made” superstars, identifying underused talent and giving it a platform to shine. Often this involves looking at Ligue 1 (a market former sporting director Monchi was extremely fond of). For instance, Clement Lenglet was plucked from Nancy and developed into a genuinely world-class centre-back that since moved to Barcelona.
In summer 2019, Sevilla returned to Ligue 1 and signed Jules Koundé from Bordeaux and Diego Carlos from Nantes, and today both showed that they have the potential to replicate Lenglet’s career trajectory.
Diego Carlos was the absolute bedrock of the Sevilla defence, blocking and clearing almost any and everything Betis could throw at Sevilla including one unreal last-ditch block. Koundé, by contrast, was an absolute dynamo. He defended diligently but seemingly every chance he got he would burst forward and surge forward up the right-flank like he was playing full-back, he played the game with such intense energy and application that you can see everyone queuing up to throw money at Sevilla for his services this summer.
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4. The fake atmosphere helps
Football without a crowd just feels wrong. Obviously no crowd is infinitely preferable to having massive crowds that risk spreading Covid-19, but the eerie silence that accompanies empty stadia just feels wrong. Just as well, then, that Sevilla piped in a fake crowd.
Throughout the game there was a generic crowd noise being played over the speakers. There was also a digital projection onto the seats to create an image of some sorts. These illusions gave the game a sense of “reality” and helped in allowing football to function as escapism rather than a stark reminder of the scale and reach global pandemic.
5. Sevilla are to be taken seriously
Sevilla’s performance was seriously impressive. A clean sheet, their goalkeeper was largely untroubled and they managed to get a big win without needing to use Ever Banega. In fact, Joan Jordan looked every inch Banega’s heir with a supreme display in midfield (he had the most touches, passes and tackles of any player on the pitch whilst covering every blade of grass).
Joan Jordán for Sevilla vs. Real Betis:
❍ Most touches (74)
❍ Most passes (55)
❍ Most recoveries (9)
❍ Most crosses (7)
❍ Most tackles (6)
❍ Most chances created (3)
Controlling the game. pic.twitter.com/9MRBNik8uI
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 11, 2020
After this impressive derbi win, Julen Lopetegui’s men are just six points behind Real Madrid in the La Liga table. They won a tricky tie and re-established their grip on third place and put a modicum of pressure from below on Los Blancos to get the win at the weekend.
Now, that pressure may amount to nothing but for a side that routinely flatters to deceive in La Liga, Sevilla winning a huge game like this does feel like a statement that they are to be taken seriously this season. Real Sociedad and Getafe will have to fight it out because Sevilla are determined to get a Champions League spot, and if Real Madrid or Barcelona slip up at the top then they know Julen Lopetegui and his men will be right there to take advantage.