By Alan Feehely l @azulfeehely
A resilient Real Valladolid earned a hard-fought point against Sevilla at the Sánchez-Pizjuán on Friday evening, extending their cushion above the relegation zone to nine points and going a long way toward securing Primera football for another season.
Sevilla earned a fourth successive draw for the first time since 2003, with the primary feeling emanating from the home camp at the final whistle being that it was two valuable points dropped for the Andalusian side. They lost ground to Atlético Madrid in the race for Champions League qualification while simultaneously opening a window for Getafe, Villarreal, and Real Sociedad to catch up. For the remaining games this weekend, which could blow open the top four race, check out a full list of betting sites.
Sevilla dominated possession, with Éver Banega putting in a stellar performance in his 150th La Liga appearance for the club. He controlled the play with guile, and left one wondering how Sevilla are going to replace his playmaking ability when he leaves for Saudi Arabia at the season’s end – Óliver Torres, the obvious in-house replacement, has not exhibited the necessary maturity thus far.
Chances were relatively few and far between, however, and Valladolid fought for every inch, creating their own fair share of opportunities in the process. Observing Sevilla with a critical eye, the obvious flaw in a strong team is their lack of a bonafide goalscorer at the apex of their attack. Luuk de Jong’s paltry return of six goals from 28 appearances is nowhere near what a top side requires, and if Sevilla are to progress to the next level it is the position that will need most attention.
This notwithstanding, they started well and nearly took the lead after a quarter of an hour. Jules Koundé played in Jesús Navas down the right, the captain’s cutback cleared as far as Franco Vázquez. The Argentinian, starting for the first time since football restarted, managed to direct the ball to his compatriot, Lucas Ocampos, but the winger’s effort flashed agonisingly wide.
Moments later, Sevilla threatened again. Sergio Escudero played a perfect crossfield ball for Navas, who did well to pull his cross back for Ocampos. Once again, however, the in-form Argentinian couldn’t break the deadlock, this time hitting the crossbar with an intelligent near-post flick.
Just five minutes later, Valladolid took the lead. Míchel clipped a straight ball into the box from a free-kick near the halfway line. Kiko Olivas, peeling off the back post and away from an uncharacteristically sloppy Fernando, managed to meet the ball cleanly to guide his header past Tomáš Vaclík, sending his team into a shock lead.
Sevilla thought they had equalised ten minutes into the second half. Navas collected a short corner deep on the right, sending in a perfectly struck centre that Munir met with a smart header to guide past visiting goalkeeper Jordi Maslip and into the back of the net. VAR correctly ruled it out, however, with Munir having strayed just offside when the cross had been struck.
It was another short corner that paid dividends for Sevilla with ten minutes left. This time, it was Suso who played the ball across goal for Escudero to meet with a header, striking Javier Sánchez by the hand and earning a penalty kick. Ocampos stood up to take it, with coach Julen Lopetegui in silent prayer on the touchline, before slotting it coolly into the bottom left corner to break Valladolid’s stern resistance.
The home side pressed for a winner, but Valladolid nearly struck back in the dying minutes. Rubén Alcaraz broke down the left side, setting off on a virtuoso run before drawing a strong save from Vaclík. All said and done, however, Valladolid more than earned their corn on a hot late-June night in Seville.