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Role reversal as Betis tower over Sevilla ahead of derby

After spending years ahead of rivals Real Betis and flirting with potential title charges, Sevilla have fallen badly behind as they head into Sunday’s “El Gran Derbi” — The Great Derby.

Although the Clasico is the world’s most widely watched Spanish derby clash, just as fiercely contested is the battle between Seville’s big two.

Betis are flying high in fourth place, under the steady hand of Manuel Pellegrini, while Sevilla languish in 18th, embarrassingly occupying a spot in the relegation zone, fearful ahead of the clash.

The hosts welcome their bitter rivals to the Benito Villamarin looking not only to stick the knife in but to twist it as well, as Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli still scrambles to put his finger on what the team needs to improve.

The Argentine coach replaced his sacked predecessor Julen Lopetegui in October for a second spell at the helm, but has only managed to garner two wins from eight games in all competitions.

Sevilla were knocked out of the Champions League in late October and lost their last group game 3-1 at Manchester City on Wednesday, although Sampaoli saw signs of hope ahead of the derby despite defeat.

“It’s normal (to lose), there is a great structural difference and individual ones,” said Sampaoli.

“The team was competitive, beyond the unforced errors we made. Sevilla put in a performance above my expectations … I’m positive, we worked and had a good match, the negative is that to play in these games you can’t make the errors we made.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola also pointed out that all teams have slumps and winning four Europa Leagues in the last nine editions of the tournament put a lot of pressure on them.

“All sides have good and bad moments,” said Guardiola.

“The problem is that they have won a lot, they have done extraordinary things, not for a year, but for a decade.

“Keeping that level is very hard. Sometimes it happens, with Julen they had a lot of injuries, players who came late (in the window), out of shape. You need time and Sevilla, the big clubs, don’t usually get that.

“They need two or three good results. The World Cup will be good for them. All teams go through this, when they find the problem they will get back where they belong.”

Real Betis, on the other hand, won last season’s Copa del Rey and hope they are just at the start of a trajectory which takes them into the higher echelons of the game.

The last time they finished in the top four in Spain was in 2005, while Sevilla have four times in the last six seasons.

Powered by hitman Borja Iglesias, along with the invention of Nabil Fekir and Sergio Canales, Pellegrini’s side are not only a good watch, but are backing it up with good results.

Sunday’s derby clash is another chance to prove their credentials and kick their rivals while they are down at the same time.

Player to watch: Nico Williams

Athletic Bilbao wide forward Nico Williams has been in sparkling form this season and earned a recent call-up to the Spain squad. With the coach set to name his list for the World Cup on November 11, the visit to face Girona on Friday is the younger Williams brother’s last chance to shine and convince Luis Enrique he should go to Qatar. It promises to be an exciting battle against former Real Madrid left-back Miguel Gutierrez.

Key stats

8 – Real Madrid midfielder Fede Valverde has eight goals in all competitions. Coach Carlo Ancelotti said he had to score 10 this season or he would rip up his own coaching license.

10 – Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has kept 10 clean sheets in his first 12 league games, a record in La Liga at this point.

79 – Girona’s exciting midfielder Aleix Garcia has crossed the ball into the box more times than any other player this season.

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