Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Jorge Sampaoli’s super subs keep Sevilla dreams of an unlikely La Liga title alive


Sevilla’s Gabriel Mercado , left, scores against Real Betis Balompie in their La Liga match at the Estadio Benito Villamarin in Seville, Spain, on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

Sevilla’s unlikely La Liga title bid remained intact as another masterstroke from Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli maintained their dominance over local rivals Real Betis Balompie.

With his side 1-0 down and thoroughly outplayed in the first half at the Estadio Benito Villamarin on Saturday, a Sampaoli double substitution turned the game around.

Vicente Iborra came on to score the winner and extend Sevilla’s unbeaten run over Betis to 10 games.

Victory also took Sampaoli’s men level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table.

“Vicente made a big impact,” Sampaoli said. “He was one of the architects that forced the team to show a different side of themselves in the second half.”

Iborra also had a hand in Sevilla’s equalizer as his initial effort was turned into the path of the grateful Gabriel Mercado by Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan for the Argentine to blast home.

However, the midfielder’s winner 15 minutes from time from another set-piece was just the latest big goal by a Sevilla substitute this season.

The UEFA Europa League holders have benefited from 14 goals scored by substitutes, double the number scored by Real Madrid players off the bench.

“In the first half we had zero chance of getting something positive and it took the rebellion of the second half for that to happen,” Sampaoli said. “Betis are one of the teams that have caused us most damage, but we have to keep thinking about what we did in the second half to be able to dream about staying at the top of the table.”

Betis looked well on course for their first derby win since 2012 when Danish defender Riza Durmisi’s free-kick nine minutes before halftime gave the hosts the lead.

“We didn’t play well in the first half and a change of attitude was necessary,” Mercado said. “We changed the system, went to a back four and the introduction of Vicente was fundamental because he gave us a lot more balance in midfield, and, above all, he was important in both goals.”

Sevilla have been lauded for their free-flowing soccer since Sampaoli’s arrival at the start of the season, but Iborra underlined the importance of their effort and belief to turn the game around after the midweek exertions of beating English champions Leicester City in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie.

“We weren’t ourselves and we had to change,” Iborra said. “We can’t always play as we want, and we showed heart and pride to turn it around. We changed everything because the first half belonged to them. The second half was ours from start to finish. This victory reinforces the work we have done so far this season.”

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