La Liga: it’s back.
Football in Spain returns this week with what should be one of the most explosive games in the division, the Seville derby, but will Sevilla taking on Real Betis be a bit odd without, well, any fans?
Colin Millar, author of the book ‘The Frying Pan of Spain: Sevilla v Real Betis – Spain’s Hottest Football Rivalry’ joined us on the Totally Football Show this week to discuss the clash, and whether it’s going to be…well, a bit odd.
“It’s definitely going to be a bit strange. The Seville derby is the best game in Spain precisely because it’s a spectacle. The noise, the colour, the atmosphere: it’s driven by the fans, and not having any fans will have a profound impact on it, more so than anywhere else because the energy the fans transmit to the pitch is usually very evident in these games.
“La Liga is marketing this because they think it could be the most-watched Seville derby of all time, due to the nature of it, and there’s been no football for three months. They’ve been thinking of a few ways to combat this, the president of La Liga Javier Tebas has said they’re going to be adding ‘pre-recorded atmosphere’ we’ve seen trialled in the Bundesliga, and putting virtual images of fans in the stands, looking at ways of increasing fan engagement.
“Whether this works remains to be seen, but I think despite the lack of fans, the return of the league itself must been seen as a triumph for Tebas and La Liga. When you think of how hard Spain was hit by this awful virus – it was in a much worse position than Germany, and I must admit that the turnaround time and the clarity and structure of the roadmap to football returning has been very impressive, and has won over a lot of people who were sceptical it could come back this early.
“It’s going to be one of those occasions that’s never forgotten, and hopefully one that’s never repeated as we get fans back into the stadiums as soon as possible.”
So what can we expect from the game itself?
“Both teams are in very different positions in the table,” said Colin. “Sevilla are a bit of a strange club, in that they’ve had a very similar season for about four years in a row now. Every summer they have this mass turnover of players and coaching staff, they start really strongly and are usually in the mix up until the halfway point, then their form tails off.
“They’re third in the table at the moment but there’s only two points down to Atletico Madrid in sixth. This run of games coming up will be crucial for all these clubs.
“Julen Lopetegui, the Sevilla coach, is actually under a bit of pressure. You might think that’s strange, as they’re so high in the league and still in the Europa League too, but there’s a real distrust in the club, partly because of the way he left the Spain job on the eve of the World Cup two years ago, and obviously the fact he came from Real Madrid. And there have also been concerns about his style of play, and the persistence with Luuk de Jong up front who hasn’t had the best of seasons.
“They’ve got players like Diego Carlos, the big Brazilian central defender who I think has been linked with Liverpool and Real Madrid, midfielder Lucas Ocampos has been really good this season too. Those players could define this game.
“Betis are in a slightly different place, in that they beat Real Madrid in their last game, and deservedly so, but they’d only won one in ten before that. Their coach Rubi is under pressure, they’re 13th in the table and should be much higher.
“Defensively they’re very fragile, but going forwards they have the likes of Nabil Fekir, Joaquin, Sergio Canales, Loren Moron, so they’re usually very good value for entertainment, and I think that’s what will define this game. Both teams like to attack, so hopefully it will be a great occasion, despite the absence of fans.”
Inevitably one other thing to keep an eye on is players who might be on the move in the transfer window. Tottenham have been credited with an interest in Betis striker Loren Moron, and Colin told us a little about him:
“He’s a bit of a strange striker. He usually turns up in these big games – he scored in the derby earlier in the season, but his goal numbers are slightly unrepresentative and he doesn’t have a whole lot outside of the box. He signed a new contract at Betis just last week, and his release clause is about €50million.”
You can listen to the latest edition of the Totally Football Show here, and even better you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.