Sevilla have slammed Real Betis players for appearing to mock the head injury suffered by Joan Jordan when hit by an object thrown from the stands in their contentious Copa del Rey clash.

As Betis players celebrated Nabil Fekir's equaliser at the Benito Villamarin on Saturday, an object – seemingly a long strip of plastic – was thrown from a home section behind the goal and struck Jordan right in front of referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea.

Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui called his players over as Jordan received medical attention on the touchline, and Bengoetxea subsequently ushered the teams off the pitch – many Betis players remained pitchside until the match was eventually suspended.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) arranged for the remaining 51 minutes to be played behind closed doors on Sunday despite Sevilla protesting the game should not be allowed to go ahead without Jordan, who was unavailable after being sent to hospital to be kept under medical supervision. Betis went on to win 2-1.

After the initial incident, several Betis players took to social media to openly accuse Jordan and Sevilla of milking the situation; Cristian Tello posted a video of the Sevilla midfielder defiantly slapping his own face in the direction of the home fans, which Willian Jose shared alongside several clown emojis.

Tello claimed Sevilla did not want to play, while Victor Camarasa accused Lopetegui of encouraging Jordan to exaggerate his condition – but Andres Guardado has attracted the most attention.

Following the victory on Sunday, Mexican veteran Guardado was caught on camera appearing to mock Jordan's injury by hitting himself on the head with a bottle and theatrically throwing himself to the floor.

He claimed that "at no time was I making fun of the act suffered by Jordan", but Sevilla have been left feeling "alone" in their attempts to ensure derby tension is only felt on the pitch.

"Sevilla strongly condemns the humiliation and attacks on honour suffered by our player Joan Jordan and the lack of respect towards our coach, Julen Lopetegui, about whom unsubstantiated comments have been made based on self-serving speculation," a statement read.

"The reality is that Jordan received the impact of an object thrown from one of the stands occupied by Real Betis fans during last Saturday's Copa del Rey derby, played at the Benito Villamarin.

"No one should ignore the objective data. Jordan was attacked, was treated in a hospital, had to rest at home due to medical prescription and was unable to play in the resumption of the game.

"The victim is Jordan. There is never room for mockery with a victim or comments to divert attention from what happened, a very serious incident.

"In this sense, Sevilla considers certain behaviour by some members of Real Betis towards Joan Jordan, Julen Lopetegui and the Sevilla fans to be unfortunate and unacceptable, seriously compromising the healthy rivalry that is generally experienced in the city of Seville.

"Sevilla believes that sports institutions and those who make them up must be the first to promote the values ​​of respect and tolerance that are intrinsic to sport.

"Sevilla will continue working to reduce the tension and working so that the tension in the derbies is experienced only and exclusively within the field of play, although we feel alone in this mission."

Andres Guardado denied he was mocking Joan Jordan during giddy post-match celebrations after Real Betis beat Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.

Mexican veteran Guardado was caught on camera pretending to knock himself out with a water bottle, a day after Sevilla's Jordan was struck by a missile thrown from the stands at Estadio Benito Villamarin.

Midfielder Jordan was hit during the celebrations of Nabil Fekir's 39th-minute goal that equalised Papu Gomez's opener.

The incident caused the game to be suspended, and it was completed behind closed doors on Sunday, resuming at 1-1 after 39 minutes, with Sergio Canales going on to score a second-half winner.

The 2-1 derby victory was celebrated extravagantly by Betis, and Guardado's behaviour was widely taken as being a jibe at Jordan, who was taken to hospital for checks on Saturday and did not feature when the game resumed on Sunday.

Guardado, who is 35, slumped to the ground theatrically after bouncing the plastic bottle off his forehead.

He issued a response on Instagram on Sunday evening after coming in for criticism, saying: "Seville is green and white... and I take the opportunity to clarify the video that from what I see, everyone who does not know me has interpreted it in the wrong way, although totally understandable from the context.

"That is why I want to say emphatically that at no time am I making fun of the act suffered by Jordan … that it has been an event that should not be experienced on a football field and that it is unfortunate and a shame!

"Believe me, if I knew that Jordan was really bad, I would never do it!"

Manuel Pellegrini said it was a bittersweet feeling after Real Betis beat Sevilla 2-1 in a Copa del Rey derby that spanned two days and was marred by violence. 

The Betis head coach saw his team resume at 1-1 on Sunday at Estadio Benito Villamarin, and a strike from Sergio Canales carried them through to the quarter-finals.

The game had been suspended on Saturday due to crowd trouble, with Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan hit by an object from the stands during celebrations of Nabil Fekir's 39th-minute goal that equalised Papu Gomez's opener.

Jordan was taken to hospital for checks after being struck by a projectile from the crowd that appeared to hit him on the head.

After the game was completed behind closed doors on Sunday, television footage emerged of Betis substitute Andres Guardado seemingly mocking Jordan's misfortune while celebrating, bouncing a water bottle off his forehead and slumping to the ground, feigning injury.

The incident drew an immediate rebuke in the Spanish media, where it was widely interpreted as a jibe at Jordan.

Pellegrini said of the result, according to AS: "The first thing is that I'm happy to be in the next round. But also bitter because I think a lot of damage has been done by a brainless person [when Jordan was hit on Saturday].

"I don't know if a plastic tube does that much damage, but there has to be an investigation. Football suffered great damage."

Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui did not want the game to resume on Sunday, and said: "There were many possibilities to play on other days. Justice in this case does not exist at all."

Canales put Betis ahead in the 73rd minute when he was left in space on the left after a pass from William Carvalho and surged forward before beating goalkeeper Alfonso Pastor.

Jules Kounde hit the bar with a late header as Sevilla battled for a leveller.

The Copa del Rey clash between Real Betis and Sevilla will resume behind closed doors on Sunday, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has confirmed.

Saturday's Seville derby at Estadio Benito Villamarin was suspended due to crowd trouble, with Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan hit by an object from the stands.

The incident occurred when the visitors' players were celebrating Nabil Fekir's 39th-minute equaliser that cancelled out Papu Gomez's opener in the last-16 tie.

Jordan was attended by physios after being struck by a projectile from the crowd that appeared to hit him on the head.

Referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea led the players off the pitch after protestations from Sevilla and their head coach Julen Lopetegui.

The RFEF has announced the final stages of the first half and the entire second half will be played on Sunday, but no supporters will be present inside the ground.

Jordan will play no part as the 27-year-old must stay at home under observation for at least 24 hours.

Sevilla condemned the "unacceptable" actions of Betis' fans in a statement released shortly after the abandonment.

"Sevilla FC condemns the violent act suffered today by Joan Jordan," the statement read.

"It was an unacceptable act in the world of sport committed by an individual who does not represent the fans of Real Betis or the way of living football in our city. 

"Likewise, the club demands the utmost respect for Joan Jordan, a true professional and an exemplary person who has suffered an appalling attack."

Betis released a statement of their own on Sunday, reading: "Real Betis Balompie strongly condemn the throw of an object to the pitch during the Copa del Rey game.

"The club has immediately cooperated with the police to identify the alleged perpetrator of said throw.

"The club will apply the internal regulations with the utmost severity to punish said individual.

"The intention of Real Betis Balompie has been to resume the game as soon as possible."

It is the latest incident to mar the Sevilla derby, which is notorious for being one of the most heated rivalries in Spain.

In 2007, Sevilla coach Juande Ramos was knocked unconscious by a bottle thrown from a Betis fan.

The Copa del Rey clash between Real Betis and Sevilla has been suspended due to crowd trouble, with Joan Jordan hit by an object from the crowd.

Alejandro Gomez opened the scoring for the visitors in the Seville derby at Estadio Benito Villamarin on Saturday but Nabil Fekir restored parity four minutes later.

While Betis' players wheeled off in celebration, Sevilla midfielder Jordan was struck by a projectile from the crowd that appeared to hit him on the head.

Physios rushed on to tend to Jordan, with referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea leading the players off the pitch after protestations from Sevilla and their head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Spanish football's governing body, RFEF, subsequently confirmed that the clash had been suspended.

"The RFEF condemns any act of violence on the playing fields," the federation's statement added.

The Seville derby is notorious for being one of the most heated rivalries in Spain.

In 2007, Sevilla coach Juande Ramos was knocked unconscious by a bottle thrown from a Betis fan.

Nabil Fekir has signed a new deal with Real Betis, keeping him in Andalusia until 2026.

The France international has extended his stay with Los Verdiblancos, whom he joined from Lyon in July 2019.

During his two and a half years at the club, Fekir has been hugely influential in Betis' rise up the table, helping them climb to third in LaLiga this season under Manuel Pellegrini after a sixth-place finish last term.

The 28-year-old has scored 16 league goals since arriving – a tally only bettered during that time by Borja Iglesias (17) for Betis – while Sergio Canales (14) is the only player to register more than his 12 assists.

 

Fekir has also attempted the most dribbles for Betis with 353 – more than double his nearest challenger, Alex Moreno (173) – with Lionel Messi, Lucas Ocampos and Vinicius Junior the only players to better that in LaLiga since the start of the 2019-20 season.

Meanwhile, Messi (341) is the only player to have completed more dribbles than Fekir (223) in the Spanish top-flight during that time.

The Copa del Rey round of 16 will feature a repeat last season's final, as Barcelona were drawn against Athletic Bilbao, while a Seville derby is also on the cards.

Barca faced Athletic in April of last year, winning 4-0 in the showdown at La Cartuja in Seville, with Lionel Messi scoring twice as he helped the Blaugrana to their only trophy of a disappointing season, and his last piece of silverware at the club.

That defeat was the second in a Copa del Rey final in the space of two weeks for Athletic, with the club having gone down 1-0 to their Basque rivals Real Sociedad in the delayed 2019-20 final. Holders Barca scraped past Linares Deportivo 2-1 to reach the last 16 this time around.

The other headline tie sees a clash between Seville's two clubs – Real Betis and Sevilla – while Sociedad host Atletico Madrid in another all LaLiga encounter.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, will face a trip to Elche.

It means Los Blancos will face Elche twice in the space of a week, with Madrid hosting the team from the east of Spain at Santiago Bernabeu in a league fixture on January 23. These ties will take place in the week commencing January 17.

Asked on Friday if he believed his side had been given an easier draw compared to Barca and Atleti, Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti replied: "Well no, all the teams want to perform well.

"It will be a tough match we need to prepare it properly as we'll play away against Elche. For me, it's just a draw and we just need to be focused and prepared as the Copa del Rey is an important competition for us obviously."

Copa del Rey last 16 draw in full:

Atletico Baleares v Valencia
Girona v Rayo Vallecano
Sporting Gijon v Cadiz
Elche v Real Madrid
Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid
Real Betis v Sevilla
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona
Mallorca v Espanyol

Manuel Pellegrini has signed a new contract with LaLiga high-flyers Real Betis until the end of the 2024-25 campaign.

The Chilean guided Betis to a sixth-placed finish in his first campaign and they sit third with 18 games of 2021-22 played.

Betis are also through to the play-off knockout round of the Europa League, where Zenit await, and have a Copa del Rey last-32 tie with Real Valladolid to come early in 2022.

Pellegrini was under contract at the Estadio Benito Villamarin until June 2023, but the 68-year-old has been rewarded with an extended deal.

 

Betis confirmed the news on Tuesday and added in a statement: "The extension of the coach's contract represents an important step forward in the growth of Real Betis, betting on one of the most prestigious coaches in world football. 

"The renewal process has been very fast given the climate of maximum understanding and trust existing between the club and its head coach."

Pellegrini has taken charge of 69 games in all competitions across his time at Betis, and his 48.2 per cent winning rate in LaLiga is the best of any coach to take charge of more than one match at the club this century.

Betis have won 27 of their 59 LaLiga matches under Pellegrini, a tally bettered only by Barcelona (33 wins), Atletico Madrid (36), Sevilla (38) and Real Madrid (41) since the start of last season.

Celtic ended their Europa League adventure by halting a dismal run against Spanish teams with a dramatic 3-2 win over Real Betis.

There was no Group G final-day reckoning, with places from top to bottom already decided with a game to spare, so Thursday's clash was all about playing for pride.

Betis are heading through to the knockout play-offs as runners-up, with Bayer Leverkusen having won the group, while third-placed Celtic have Europa Conference League knockout play-offs ahead of them.

Celtic had gone seven games without a win against Spanish opposition, but goals from Stephen Welsh, Ewan Henderson and David Turnbull, with a winner from the penalty spot in the 78th minute, saw off the LaLiga visitors to Parkhead.

The hosts made a fine start when Welsh deftly headed a left-wing corner from Liel Abada across goal and inside the right post.

Betis midfielder Paul Akouokou struck a sweet shot from outside the box against the angle of post and crossbar with almost the final kick of the first half, and Cristian Tello was denied early in the second half, while Celtic's Nir Bitton scuffed an effort following a corner when he should have done better.

It felt like an equaliser was coming as Joaquin, Diego Lainez and Tello rained more shots towards the Celtic goal. It came in the 69th minute when Joaquin cut in from the right wing, the 40-year-old showing a respectable turn of pace, and Scott Bain pushed a stinging shot from Borja Iglesias against his left-hand post, only for the ball to cruelly ping back into the net off the goalkeeper.

Henderson restored the hosts' lead three minutes later, touching in fellow substitute Michael Johnston's surface-skimming cross from the right, but the rush of goals continued as Iglesias got in behind the Hoops defence and slotted beyond Bain in the 74th minute.

Celtic had a penalty from their next attack, with Edgar Gonzalez tripping Abada, and Turnbull found the bottom-left corner. Ahead for the third time, this time Celtic locked up at the back, making sure of the win.

Xavi believes Barcelona's supporters will be "proud" of their team despite a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Real Betis on Saturday.

After LaLiga wins over Espanyol and Villarreal and a Champions League draw against Benfica, the result marked Xavi's first defeat in charge of the Blaugrana since he took over from Ronald Koeman.

Barca's tally of 23 goals in LaLiga this term is their lowest at this stage since the 2003-04 campaign when they scored 19, while their points total of 23 is their lowest since the same season (20).

Xavi refused to be too downbeat, though, and believed his side deserved more from the game, which was ultimately won by Juanmi's breakaway goal with 11 minutes remaining.

"It is a shame because we did not deserve to lose," he told a media conference. "We did not have the luck we had against Villarreal today.

"We cannot allow a goal like the one we have conceded but it is a shame to have lost because we deserved to win.

"I think the fans will be proud of the team. We played a very good second half and Betis' goal came when we were at our best.

"Sometimes you have to know how to make tactical fouls and prevent the opponent playing and we did not do that.

"Their goal bothers me a lot because a situation like this cannot happen to us.

"I have told the players that this is football and that I am proud of them. They have given everything and if anyone deserved to win the game it was Barca."

Barca's attention now turns to a crucial Champions League clash against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

The Catalan giants are second in Group E, just two points ahead of Benfica, and they know the only way of guaranteeing their progression to the knockout stages is victory at the Allianz Arena.

"On Wednesday we will have to compete like animals in Munich because we are at risk of not making into the last 16," he said.

"But we depend on ourselves. It's easy; if we win we're in the round of 16 and if Benfica don’t win we're through.

"We'll go with everything and play like we did in the second half today. We will see how far that takes us."

Xavi had his first taste of defeat as Barcelona boss with Juanmi securing Real Betis a famous 1-0 victory at Camp Nou on Saturday. 

Barca defeated Espanyol and Villarreal in their first two LaLiga matches under Xavi, which came either side of a goalless draw at home to Benfica in the Champions League. 

The lacked a serious attacking threat against Betis and were punished on the break by Juanmi with 11 minutes remaining. 

Ez Abde missed a glorious chance to salvage a point for the Blaugrana, who could find themselves seven points adrift of the top four and 16 off top spot if Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid win later in the day. 

Philippe Coutinho sent a tame effort from Jordi Alba's cross towards the near post in the 11th minute and Rui Silva held it at the second attempt. 

Gavi had to go off after the ball was kicked against his head by Hector Bellerin, meaning his status for the crunch Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in midweek could now be in doubt. 

After Juanmi had a goal disallowed for a narrow offside decision, Xavi sent Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembele on with Barca toiling. 

Dembele was lively but could not find the target and Betis put them to the sword with a swift break that finished with Juanmi sliding home a pass from former Barca winger Cristian Tello. 

Barca pushed for a winner but Ez Abde blazed their best opportunity over from eight yards with 10 minutes remaining. 

Ronald Araujo was deemed to have fouled Andres Guardado despite appealing for a stoppage-time penalty, leaving Xavi to cope with the bitter taste of a first defeat.

Porto and Sporting CP face a one-year ban from playing in Europe if they fail to pay outstanding debts by the end of next month.

UEFA on Friday revealed sanctions that have been issued to eight clubs for breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

Primeira Liga leaders Porto and second-placed Sporting have been fined €300,000 and €250,000 respectively and will not play in the next UEFA club competition they qualify for in one of the next three seasons unless they can prove by January 31, 2022 they have settled "outstanding overdue amounts."

LaLiga side Real Betis have been hit with a €250,000 fine, while CSKA Sofia and CD Santa Clara were both ordered to pay €75,000 and Mons Calpe SC must fork out €15,000.

All of those clubs also face missing out on playing in Europe in either the 2022-23, 2023-24 or 2024-25 season if they qualify, but have not paid what they owe.

FC Astana and CFR 1907 Cluj were fined €150,000 and €200,000 respectively, but were not threatened with a ban.

The newly established First Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB First Chamber) also found that AEK Athens did not comply with several club licensing and FFP rules.

The Greek club agreed to pay an unconditional financial contribution of €1.5million, while they will also withhold 10 per cent of UEFA prize money they make in the next UEFA club competition they qualify for.

Xavi claimed Ousmane Dembele could become the "best player in the world in his position" after Barcelona president Joan Laporta suggested the forward is better than Kylian Mbappe.

Dembele, who was a €105million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou in January.

The France international will be free to discuss fresh terms with clubs next month if a new contract cannot be agreed with current club Barca.

Laporta revealed on Thursday that negotiations were going slower than expected with Dembele but assured the following day that the 24-year-old wanted to stay and told TV3 he believes the Barca forward was better than Mbappe.

"We have a very good relationship with Dembele and he wants to stay," Laporta said.

"We also want him to stay because he's a great player. These situations need negotiations with representatives who want the best for the player.

"I'm enthusiastic about Dembele. He's a better player than Mbappe."

Asked for an update on the Dembele situation, Xavi told reporters:  "What I know is that it is not only the economic issue.

"We have left him a very clear position. He is a very important player with great talent. I already said it, he can be the best player in the world in his position. It depends on him. 

"We think of him as a key figure in this project. If it is because of the sporting project, he is happy. We are going to be positive. It is not just an economic issue. He wanted to feel loved and this he will have."

Questions were then put forward as to whether Dembele would feature without signing a contract and Xavi responded: "It would not be the objective, if he has a contract I think he has to play. 

"You have to be positive. But on the other hand, I am very clear on that, if you have a contract you have to play, also because of the image of the club. I do not value that option; I do not contemplate it."

 

Club legend Xavi took the reins after Ronald Koeman's dismissal in late October and has triumphed in his opening two LaLiga games – only four Barca managers have ever won their first three in the competition in the 21st century.

The Catalan club sit seventh, 13 points off leaders Real Madrid ahead of facing Betis, who have won just one of 20 previous top-flight meetings with Barca.

Xavi's side then face Bayern Munich on Wednesday in a crucial Champions League clash that they are likely to have to win to qualify for the knockout stages, but the former midfielder insisted his focus was on Betis.

"I look no further," Xavi responded when asked about the week ahead. "Each game is vital. Tomorrow is also a final. We cannot lose points if we want to connect and fight for the league. 

"We will play with the best 11, with whom I think they can perform better due to the circumstances. The league will tell us where we are at the end of the season.

"It is an important week like the next one will also be. And in January. Barca is a daily requirement and every game. 

"Every week at Barca is vital. There is no rest until the holidays and more in this situation, we can't give anything away.

"Barca aspires to win everything and time will always tell where we got to. We are a team made to win, compete and the notes will say where we have competed."

For Real Betis, the past 15 years haven't been the easiest. They've been relegated from LaLiga twice and failed to secure a first return to the Champions League since 2004-05, while just a few kilometres north, their bitter rivals Sevilla have enjoyed the greatest period in their existence.

Sevilla have won six UEFA Cup/Europa League titles, a couple of Copa del Rey crowns, the European Super Cup and qualified for the Champions League eight times.

Back in January 2018, the winds of change appeared to sweep through Seville. Betis were 5-3 winners at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in an astonishing, historic match.

Sevilla hadn't lost any of their previous 29 home matches, a run that stretched back to 2016, and were unbeaten in eight editions of Spain's fiercest derby. But on the day, Quique Setien's men were as irresistible going forward as the hosts were hopeless at the back.

Betis went on to finish sixth in the table, one place above a Sevilla side that went through three coaches over the course of the season. It was their first campaign without famed sporting director Monchi and without him they struggled massively for direction.

This was arguably the most vulnerable their status among Spain's top clubs had been since returning to LaLiga in 2001-02, yet they largely managed to weather the storm and Monchi's return restored much-needed stability. Betis, on the other hand, finished 10th and 15th in the following two campaigns, the promising early work of Setien proving something of a false dawn.

But once again there is an aura about Betis, and success in Sunday's Gran Derbi would really show they mean business.

Fun but flawed

Manuel Pellegrini's reputation in some quarters may have taken a bit of a bashing after a fairly underwhelming spell at West Ham, but it was going to take something drastic for him to be written off in Spain given the miracles he worked at Villarreal earlier this century.

It's fair to say things have gone well at the Benito Villamarin for the Chilean, with their sixth-placed finish in 2020-21 ensuring a return to the Europa League and they've started 2021-22 in fine fashion as well.

In fact, their record in 2021 is especially startling. They have lost just six of 42 matches across all competitions this year – across the top five European leagues, only Inter have been defeated less often.

While this Betis may not provide quite the same thrill ride as Setien's from a few years back, they're certainly among LaLiga's greatest entertainers this season.

The personnel available to Pellegrini gives Betis the technical capability to knock the ball around well but they're arguably at their most comfortable when getting the ball forward quickly, with their 26 direct attacks second only to Real Madrid (28) this season.

This coupled with the high quality of the individuals they possess in attack makes them one of the more threatening teams going forward, with their 13.0 expected goals (xG) from open play only bettered by Madrid (15.5), Barcelona (14.7) and – fractionally – Sevilla (13.1).

 

They are also efficient pressers. While their 79 high turnovers may only be the seventh highest in LaLiga this term, their 24 shots from such situations is at least four more than anyone else – these haven't led to any goals yet, but it's a positive sign that they appear pick their moments to increase the pressure well.

 

But conversely, one of the other reasons that Betis matches are so entertaining to watch is that they're not particularly solid at the back, as Thursday's 4-0 Europa League hammering by Bayer Leverkusen showed.

Now, this can potentially be explained by their attack-first mentality, but it should be a cause for concern in the long run if they cannot fix it, especially if they do harbour hopes of finishing in the top four.

Their 11.8 expected goals against (xGA) in open play is the third-worst in LaLiga and almost double Sevilla's respective record (6.2), and that probably doesn't bode well for a derby that can be open and frantic.

The Leverkusen loss came just a few days after Betis were also particularly poor defensively against Atletico Madrid, a 3-0 defeat in which they barely laid a glove on the defending champions.

And perhaps therein lies the biggest psychological barrier of all ahead of Sevilla's visit. Under Pellegrini, Betis have won none and lost seven of their 10 matches against their neighbours, Madrid, Atletico and Barca.

A win on Sunday will move them level on 24 points with Sevilla, who head into the weekend only a point off the top, but arguably more important than anything is that defeating Julen Lopetegui's men might finally show they can rise to the challenge of the league's best teams.

Beauty and the beast

When on song, there are few players in LaLiga more thrilling to watch than Nabil Fekir. Betis fans probably pinch themselves that he's still at the Benito Villamarin – to be honest, the very fact they managed to sign him in the first place was pretty remarkable.

Ignoring the petulance that saw him sent off in Leverkusen, Fekir's made a very lively start to 2021-22, which made it even more astonishing that Pellegrini opted to rest him against Atletico. Now, he was only one booking away from a suspension that would've ruled him out of the derby, but still.

Of course, his talents are nothing new to many, but he's proving what an asset he is with his form at the moment.

His 33 chances created is the second-most in LaLiga after Iker Muniain's (39), with the Frenchman both effective in open play and set-pieces, with these opportunities amounting to 2.7 expected assists, second only to Memphis Depay (4.5).

 

In open play is when Fekir's at his most useful for Betis, though, with his exceptional close control and dribbling skills able to open up spaces and situations that others can't. He's completed 29 dribbles this term – Javi Galan (30), Yannick Carrasco (31) and Vinicius Junior (33) are the three with more.

He's also attempted the third-most shots (34) in the league, though his one-goal haul (2.1 xG) suggests he might be better off showing a little more restraint.

But while Betis are undoubtedly a side that's easy on the eye with the likes of Fekir and Sergio Canales on the pitch, they've also got someone adept at doing the dirty work.

Guido Rodriguez has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence since moving from Club America in January last year, with the Argentina international's trademark bite and tenacity quickly becoming a key element for Betis.

A tall and strong defensive midfielder, Rodriguez has great presence without the ball. Even if he doesn't necessarily win the ball back himself, his willingness to get stuck in gives Betis real steel in the middle and makes him a formidable opponent.

He may not possess the passing ability of William Carvalho, but he's a considerably greater defensive presence, with Rodriguez averaging 3.1 tackle attempts per 90 minutes since the start of last season – among players to play at least 1,000 minutes in that time, only two players have been more forceful than him.

He also ranks in the top 10 among the same players for possession won (7.7) each match. There really is more to Betis than just the craftiness of Fekir.

Sevilla lacking soul

Betis' midfield could be the key on Sunday. While it's in this area of the pitch with players like Rodriguez and Fekir that they thrive, midfield is probably Sevilla's weakest area.

While Fernando was excellent for much of last season and Joan Jordan was solid enough as a No.8 a little in front, Lopetegui muddled through the campaign without ever really figuring out what to do with that third – the most advanced – midfield position.

Ivan Rakitic was usually the one to play there, but Oscar Rodriguez, Papu Gomez and Oliver Torres were also all used there to minimal success. But while that didn't really look like much of a problem last season, there's been little to suggest Lopetegui's fixed the issue, and it's been exacerbated by Jordan going through a drip – the Spaniard has seemed less influential, with his touches dropping from 88.1 each game to 74.4.

Lopetegui has come under fire from some supporters this season for the football they've played, which has looked especially monotonous in the Champions League, but let's not forget they could feasibly go into the international break top of the table, and they do have their strengths.

They may not engage in exhilarating high pressing, with their 46 high turnovers comfortably (by 10) the lowest in the division, but with the likes of Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are pretty adept at evade their opponent's attempts to press, as evidenced by the fact their 66 high turnovers against is the fourth-lowest.

 

Similarly, while their forward line may not trigger a high press, once their opponents get into midfield, they are extremely persistent. There have only been four instances of teams managing to string together 10 or more passes that lead to either a shot or touch in the box against Sevilla, the best such record in the division.

 

But in possession, this is a Sevilla side that lacks identity. While they like to dominate the ball, with their 6,011 passes this season third to Barcelona (6,899) and Madrid (6,173), they're hardly masters of 'tiki-taka'.

Their 40 sequences of 10 or more passes is the third-highest in LaLiga, but they've yet to score a goal in that manner. When they go direct, they're far more efficient, with 13 – which is below average in itself – direct attacks yielding three goals.

It could be argued that the playmaker they're missing is all that's preventing Lopetegui turning Sevilla into a truly excellent team.

Betis will hope something doesn't suddenly click this weekend as they look to overcome a significant mental barrier.

Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic is winning plenty of admirers.

The 21-year-old Serbian has netted 10 times in 12 appearances at club level this season.

Vlahovic is currently under contract until June 23, although La Viola want him to sign an extension.

TOP STORY – PSG TO ENTER VLAHOVIC RACE

Paris Saint-Germain will enter the race to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic, claims Le10Sports.

The Parisians are lining up the Serbian striker as a potential successor to Kylian Mbappe should he exit the club when his contract expires at the end of this season, with Real Madrid circling.

Hot property Vlahovic is being pursued by JuventusLiverpool and Tottenham.

ROUND-UP

- Unai Emery will not be the first permanent manager in Newcastle United's new era, BBC Sport journalist and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague understands. The Basque coach is set to stay at Villarreal for now, though his job there is under threat amid a poor start to 2021-22.

- The Sun reports Antonio Conte's arrival at Tottenham has seen Harry Kane abandon any plans he had to quit the club. Kane apparently wished to join Manchester City during the most recent transfer window.

- New Spurs boss Conte wants to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, according to Metro. Conte also has Inter defender Stefan de Vrij in his sights, claims Football Insider.

Milan are in the race to sign talented River Plate star Julian Alvarez in the off-season, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Fiorentina have also shown interest in 21-year-old Alvarez, who has four caps for Argentina.

Norwich City are considering a move to replace embattled manager Daniel Farke with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, claims the Daily Mail. The Canaries have only two points from 10 games following their return to the Premier League. Howe has also been linked with the vacant Newcastle job.

Newcastle want to make Inter's Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic their first major signing in January, says The Sun. Brozovic is out of contract at the end of the season.

Lazio are looking to convince Luiz Felipe to ink a new deal with the club amid interest from BarcelonaSevilla and Real Betis, reports CalcioMercato. The Brazilian centre-back's contract expires at the end of this season.

Page 1 of 4
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.