Sparks To Fly In Seville's Doom Derby

In a weekend schedule where the top four should all pick up comfortable wins, Seville is set to be the focus as two underachieving teams play in a derby of doom...

Last Updated: 22/11/13 at 14:24 Post Comment

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If Ivan Rakitic was sporting a big, cheesy smile on his face on his return to Spain after helping Croatia through to the World Cup finals in their Iceland play-off, it would certainly have been wiped off when reaching Andalusia, the country's current capital of gloom.

In theory, the Sevilla man should be playing his football in one of the chirpiest cities around, a place stuffed to the rafters with pleasing temperatures, beer and awful, unlistenable Flamenco music, which the locals seem to love. But the football gods are frowning on both Sevilla and Betis these days with both clubs enduring depressingly flat campaigns. The season is set to worsen for one of this Primera pair after this weekend's city derby.

The world 'suffering' is ubiquitous in the Spanish football phrasebook, to describe anything from having a tough game to lying bottom of the table having qualified for Europe the previous year. A bit like poor, beleaguered Betis in actual fact. The side had always been a little erratic in being capable of brilliance in front of goal and madness at the back - which still makes the team the most fun to watch in La Liga - but the latter tendency seems to have taken over in the current campaign, where the suffering has been turned up to ten.

They have been without the scoring services of Rubén Castro for all but 22 minutes of the league campaign, a footballer who knocked in 18 La Liga goals last season, and no-one else has been able to pick up the slack, leaving Betis with the second-worst scoring record in the division. Betis are also set to be without second striker Jorge Molina for Sunday night's clash, with the forward forced to abandon Thursday's training session.

The defence has been chaotic with nine players featuring in the back four, whilst injuries have ravaged the rest of the squad. The most recent setback befell poor Damien Perquis, who took a blow to the jaw to leave him drinking fluids through a straw and unable to talk for 50 days.

A team whose recent success has been built on institutional peace and harmony has also looked wobblier of late, with disagreements between the club president, who feels that European football should once again be a destination, and manager Pepe Mel, a coach that is content with mid-table stability and a decent Europa League run. Betis fans cannot even look to recent history for hope this weekend after a 5-1 defeat last season that saw supporters turning up to protest at the training ground; and that was during the good times.

One chink of light is that Sevilla are hardly playing football with zeal and panache either. In fact, their city neighbours are having yet another underachieving, meandering campaign that is immensely displeasing their fans. A complete change of squad with new faces coming in has yet to change the same problems at the club - a lack of consistency and identity.

Manager Unai Emery is still grasping for his favoured starting XI and tactical set-up, and is infuriating fans with endless tinkering and tweaking, replete with his usual touchline gesticulation, seen for three years with Valencia. At least Sevilla finally did manage their first away win in the league for 14 months, but it still leaves the club going into the game in 11th, eight points off the Champions League places.

In order to avoid a self-harming rebellion in the Sánchez Pizjuán on Sunday night, the club has organised 'a week of fans' with the chirpy slogan of 'with you we are unstoppable'. Nonsense of course, after four years of disappointment and stagnation. The one positive is that the atmosphere is set to be a less poisinous one from days of yore with the death of Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta in 2007 still casting a peaceful legacy over the duel, with the tragic event acting as a reminder that football is still only game.

In a weekend schedule where the top four should all pick up comfortable wins, Seville is set to be the focus for the weekend's football in a match which is a bit of a Thunderdome contest with two teams desperately needing a positive straw to grasp.

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