Three games into the resumed Liga season, Real Betis announced on Sunday they had replaced coach Joan Francesc Ferrer, known as “Rubi”, with the club’s sports director Alexis Trujillo.
Betis have drawn once and lost twice in three games since the Spanish top flight resumed, and fell 1-0 at Bilbao on Saturday, leaving the club 14th in the 20-team table, eight points clear of the relegation places with eight matches to play.
The club said in a statement posted on their website early on Sunday that they had made the decision to fire Rubi late on Saturday evening.
The statement said Trujillo, a 54-year-old former midfielder who captained Betis and played more than 220 games for the club, had been appointed until the end of the season.
Trujillo also took over as coach for the last two games of the 2016-17 season, drawing both games.
The club thanked Rubi and his assistants.
The 50 year-old Catalan arrived at Betis from Espanyol at the start of the season on a three-year contract.
Sevilla and Real Betis is the game in Spain most defined by its fans and on Thursday it will be a first glimpse of La Liga without them as the season resumes behind closed doors after three months away due to the coronavirus.
Fireworks, banners, plumes of smoke and crowds, delirious at the sight of a team bus, let alone a goal, the Seville derby is a fixture renowned for its intensity and cherished by its supporters.
There will be 110 games held in 39 days, with clubs playing every three days for five and a half weeks, but none for the rest of the season will be as much of a stark reminder of what is missing.
“We can’t wait to return to competing,” said Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday.
“In circumstances that three months ago were unimaginable but today it is the reality and we have to adapt.
“The derby is going to be played and we all know what it means. We have to respond.”
At the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where Sevilla had only lost two league games this season in front of their fans, the stands will be empty, except for officials and substitutes, who will be stretched out across rows to maintain social distancing.
For those watching on television at home, the stands can be full, with virtual faces planted in place of vacant seats and fake crowd noise, taken from the computer game FIFA, ebbing and flowing according to the action.
La Liga’s hope is to pitch the restart as a celebration.
“Volver es Ganar”, has been the league’s slogan, “To Return is to Win”, and there is excitement around football’s return, to go with the relief in recent weeks as the number of deaths and infections have fallen.
– ‘Respect the rules’-
Spain has recorded more than 27,000 deaths overall and remains one of the worst-hit countries in the world by coronavirus.
But there were 48 new infections on Monday, the lowest since lockdown was declared by the government and down from as many as 10,000 towards the end of March.
Sport resuming adds to the sense that the crisis is now under control but the differences in Seville could also be a sobering demonstration of Spain’s “new normal”.
All players will arrive wearing masks and gloves and have their temperatures checked before entering the stadium.
In total, only around 270 people will be allowed inside while outside, 600 police and security personnel will remain in operation until hours after the final whistle.
Their remit will be to ensure fans do not gather together in large groups, fill up small areas or congregate on the same streets.
A perimeter fence will be in place to keep them at a distance from the stadium.
“It is very important that they pay attention to what is asked of them,” said Betis coach Rubi. “It will be the only time in their life that this will happen. They have to live it 100 per cent but while respecting the rules.”
The football will be the same, albeit with five substitutes allowed instead of three and two drinks breaks permitted to take into account the possibility of extreme heat this summer.
Sevilla cannot afford a slow restart either given they sit at the front of a tight queue of clubs aiming to overtake them and finish in the top four.
One point behind are both Real Sociedad and Getafe. Atletico Madrid are two points back in sixth.
Betis have not entirely given up on European qualification themselves although it will take a formidable run to close a nine-point gap on seventh-placed Valencia, who host Levante on Friday.
“We are not going to make any excuses about the unusual circumstances, the lack of fans, or the small amount that we have trained,” said Rubi. “This is the situation. We have to face it.”
Real Madrid’s response to winning the Clasico was another surprise defeat on Sunday as they lost 2-1 away at Real Betis to hand the initiative straight back to Barcelona.
Betis were deserving victors of a thrilling contest at the Benito Villamarin where two galling Madrid errors cost them their place at the top of La Liga, with Barca now two points clear.
A heavy touch from Sergio Ramos led to Sidnei’s stunning opener for Betis and then Karim Benzema, who equalised with a penalty on the stroke of half-time, was at fault for their 82nd-minute winner.
Benzema’s misplaced pass in midfield allowed Cristian Tello to go clear and he held his nerve to give Betis their first victory in eight games that adds yet another twist to this season’s back-and-forth title race.
“We lacked everything today,” said Real coach Zinedine Zidane.
“It was our worst game of the season. We lacked energy, fluency, possession, aggression. It was a bad day and that can happen. I am responsible. We can’t lose our heads but we can’t be happy either.”
Madrid appeared to have taken a significant step forward, at least psychologically, by beating Barcelona 2-0 last weekend but this result undid all their good work at the Santiago Bernabeu while bringing defensive doubts swiftly back to the surface.
Betis climb to 12th and put eight points between themselves and the bottom three.
Madrid have now lost three out of their last four games and won only two from seven, a dip in form that has appeared even more charitable given Barca’s own problems on and off the pitch.
After a game at home to Eibar on Friday, Zinedine Zidane’s side will travel to Manchester City in the Champions League but on this evidence their hopes of recovering their 2-1 home defeat from the first leg would seem faint at best.
Ramos will be suspended at the Etihad Stadium and his own poor run of form continued against Betis, where he was at fault for their first goal and then complicit in compounding Benzema’s error for the second.
“We haven’t played the way we trained all week,” said Ramos. “We have to be self-critical. And now we have to wait for those above us to slip up.”
Eder Militao will likely come in for Ramos against City and he was given an outing at right-back in the absence of the ill Dani Carvajal while Marcelo was preferred to Ferland Mendy on the opposite side.
Gareth Bale was left out of the starting line-up for a fourth match running.
Betis were the better side in the first half and might have taken the lead earlier had Marc Bartra not headed over from four yards or Thibaut Courtois not reacted quickly to push away Nabil Fekir’s thundering shot.
But five minutes before half-time they finally broke through, aided by Ramos, who tried to dribble the ball out after Fekir’s shot was blocked only for a heavy touch to allow the forward to retrieve.
Off balance, Ramos bundled into Fekir and probably would have conceded a penalty had the loose ball not spilled to Sidnei, who instead hammered it into the top corner.
Deservedly in front, Betis then went in level at the interval as Sidnei, perhaps with the adrenaline still pumping, fouled Marcelo in the box. Benzema drove into the bottom corner for only his third goal this year.
Both teams had chances to find a winner. A scintillating Betis break ended with Sergio Canales sending Joaquin through but after rounding Courtois he tried to square back to Canales when the net looked open. Luka Modric sprinted back and hacked away.
Madrid enjoyed their own spell of pressure as Modric’s shot from distance was saved and Mendy, on for Marcelo, curled onto the crossbar, helped on its way by the fingertips of Joel Robles.
But it was Betis that landed the decisive blow, again benefitting from a Madrid mistake. Benzema came deep and his pass inside was loose, persuading Ramos to dash out to intercept but he was beaten and left stranded.
Andres Guardado put Tello through the gap and he sent Courtois diving towards one corner before sliding the ball into the other.
Luis Suarez suffered a “bad sprain” to his right ankle during Barcelona’s win over Real Betis on Sunday, coach Ernesto Valverde confirmed.
Suarez was taken off for Philippe Coutinho in the 89th minute of the 4-1 victory, in which he scored one goal and set up the second of a Lionel Messi hat-trick.
“He has a bad sprain,” Valverde said afterward. “We’ll see what the doctors say but this is the feeling we have.”
Suarez looks unlikely now to feature over the international break, with Uruguay playing Uzbekistan in the China Cup on Friday.
He will hope to recover in time for Barca’s La Liga clash against Atletico Madrid on April 6 and has just under four weeks to be ready for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United.
Even the Real Betis fans were applauding by the end as Lionel Messi scored another spectacular hat-trick to fire Barcelona to a 4-1 victory on Sunday and leave them with one hand on the La Liga trophy.
Messi’s treble, his second in a month in Seville, fourth of the season and 51st of his career, moves Barca 10 points clear of Atletico Madrid with 10 games left to play, a gap surely too big to close.
“We had a great opportunity to increase the gap on Atletico,” Messi said. “We had to take it tonight.”
Luis Suarez, whose superb flick set up Messi’s second, scored his own brilliant goal after a scintillating solo run but it was ultimately reduced to a footnote, in what became another night all about his Argentinian partner.
The only blot was the sight of Suarez limping off late on, with what coach Ernesto Valverde suspected was a “bad sprain” to his ankle.
Messi now has 29 league goals this season, 39 in all competitions, and together with Suarez’s 18 their joint-total of 47 is more than all but two of the other teams in the division.
A simple finish from Suarez’s exquisite assist came between a free-kick perfectly planted into the top corner and a bending lob that grazed the crossbar and dropped in.
The Betis fans left at the Benito Villamarin, and most of them were, felt compelled to stand and applaud.
“I don’t remember the opposition cheering me for a goal, I am very grateful,” Messi said.
This was supposed to be one of the more awkward tests in Barcelona’s run-in, which includes Atletico Madrid at home and fifth-placed Alaves away.
All the rest of their opponents currently sit 10th or lower.
But regardless of the fixtures, Barca seem to be saving their best for the home straight, which bodes badly for Manchester United, whom they face in the Champions League quarter-finals next month.
Already in the final of the Copa del Rey, where Barca will return to this stadium to face Valencia in May, a treble is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
No time to breathe
There was barely a moment to pause for breath in the first half, both teams throwing players forward without restraint or, seemingly, regard for the spaces they left at the back.
Betis were happy to open up and almost took the lead when Joaquin volleyed first-time to the stretching Sergio Canales, but he was unable to connect.
Barca were perhaps fortunate to earn the free-kick for Messi’s opener as Canales obstructed Arthur Melo just outside the area, to the right of centre.
But there was no luck in Messi’s shot, which flew like a dart over the ducking head of Gerard Pique, past the hand of Pau Lopez, and into the top left-hand corner.
Betis came again, Arthur twice scrambling the ball away from Canales in the box, before Suarez missed a sitter after being teed up by Messi.
He made amends just before half-time. Messi fired into the feet of the Uruguayan, who took the ball one way and flicked it the other, behind his leg and into the path of Messi, who did the rest.
Betis could have been four down by the hour as Suarez missed two more, but the chances kept coming, and he finally hit the mark.
There were four defenders ahead when he began his run from the halfway line but Suarez sped past one and between two more, each of them colliding into the other before being left sprawled on the ground.
Aissa Mandi made one final lunge but Suarez skipped through to finish.
Loren Moron curled in a consolation for Betis but Messi had the final say. Ivan Rakitic rolled the ball back and he clipped a sumptuous chip over Lopez, off the crossbar and in.
Suarez limped off injured in the final minutes and Messi could have added a fifth, only for the post to rescue Betis. Four was enough.
Barcelona lost at home in La Liga for the first time in more than two years as Real Betis pulled off a stunning 4-3 victory at the Camp Nou on Sunday, despite Lionel Messi scoring twice on his return from injury.
Barca last endured defeat on their own patch against Alaves in September 2016 but, following 42 games unbeaten, their run was halted by a brilliant, counter-attacking display from Betis.
After five games out injured, Messi returned to Barca’s starting line-up but his two goals, one from the penalty spot and another deep into injury-time, proved little more than consolations.
Junior Firpo and Joaquin had put Betis two up at the interval before Messi sparked hopes of a comeback from the spot.
Giovani Lo Celso then capitalised on a rare mistake from Marc-Andre ter Stegen only for Barca to come again, Arturo Vidal making it 3-2, having come on as a substitute.
Ivan Rakitic was sent off, however, with nine minutes left and Sergio Canales added a fourth for Betis before Messi poked home in the 92nd minute.
Barca stay top of the table despite the defeat but their lead is down to one point, with Atletico Madrid now breathing down their necks in second, while Espanyol will have a chance to move level on points with the Catalans when they visit Sevilla later on Sunday.
Ernesto Valverde’s Barca play Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano after the international break.
Betis seemed faster, sharper and hungrier while Barcelona’s midfield was repeatedly carved open on the break.
It took five passes for the opener, the last a first-time drive from William Carvalho to free Junior down the left. He weaved inside Sergi Roberto and found the net.
Barca had chances. Messi’s free-kick found Clement Lenglet on the stretch but his lunging finish was tipped over by Pau Lopez. Ter Stegen denied Cristian Tello with his legs.
Betis were soon pouring onto Barca´s defence again, with Junior’s cross evading everyone before finding Lo Celso on the opposite side of the box. His cute cut-back picked out veteran winger Joaquin, who stabbed in Betis’ second.
Vidal replaced the jaded Arthur Melo at half-time and shot within a minute of the restart. Messi feathered a through-ball for Sergi but Betis survived the scramble as Luis Suarez lashed wide.
Barca had the momentum and in the 68th minute, they pulled one back, with Jordi Alba pulled down by Tello, and Messi converting the penalty for his eighth league goal of the season.
But the comeback stalled three minutes later as Betis restored their two-goal advantage. Ter Stegen made the error, letting Lo Celso’s shot slip through his fingers and into the far corner.
Barca were not done yet. Two substitutes combined for a second, Munir El Haddadi laying on Vidal to make it 3-2 but no sooner had the recovery began again, it was halted.
First, Rakitic was sent off, a second yellow card for a late challenge on Lo Celso, and then Canales pushed in Betis’ fourth from Junior’s cross.
Messi added his second in injury-time, tapping a Vidal pass over the line. The video assistant referee deemed Messi onside but there was no more late drama as Betis held on for a shock victory.
Real Betis halted Real Madrid’s 73-game goal-scoring run on Wednesday after pulling off a shock 1-0 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Antonio Sanabria struck deep into stoppage time to hand Real Betis the win away to Real Madrid on Wednesday as the European champions failed to score for the first time in 74 matches.
Defeat leaves Real already seven points adrift of leaders Barcelona just five games into their defence of La Liga having failed to win in all three home games so far this season.
Even the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo on his return from a five-match domestic ban couldn’t break Betis’ resistence as former Real goalkeeper Antonio Adan produced stunning saves from Isco, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale.
And Betis snatched all three points in the 93rd minute when Sanabria powered home a header from Antonio Barragan’s cross.
Ronaldo was recalled among three changes to the Madrid side from Sunday’s 3-1 win at Real Sociedad as Zinedine Zidane named his strongest available side.
However, it was the visitors who made the stronger start and should have gone in front when Sanabria’s goalbound effort was cleared off the line by Dani Carvajal.
Real grew slowly into the game as Luka Modric fired into the side-netting, whilst Ronaldo’s low drive was well-handled by Adan.
But it was Keylor Navas who was forced into the best save of the opening 45 minutes as he tipped Fabian Ruiz’s rising driver over the bar
Adan made another smart stop to deny Isco just before half-time and Betis had to resist an onslaught after the break.
Ronaldo blazed wildly over from Bale’s inch-perfect cross before Kroos forced Adan into another finger-tip stop.
The former Madrid ‘keeper’s finest moment came in denying Bale in spectacular fashion 15 minutes from time, though, as the Welshman’s backheeled volley was turned onto the post.
Betis were the side to finally have the ball in the net as the game entered five minutes of stoppage time, but Sanabria had strayed offside as he turned home Andres Guardado’s shot.
However, they broke with purpose once more minutes later and this time Sarabia wasn’t to be denied as he bulleted a header into the far corner.
– Atletico celebrate –
Earlier, Atletico Madrid celebrated being awarded the honour of hosting the Champions League final in 2019 with an impressive 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao to move up to third.
The visitors needed to rely on a brilliant penalty save from Jan Oblak to deny Aritz Aduriz just before half-time.
Angel Correa opened the scoring 10 minutes into the second-half by finishing off a flowing move involving Antoine Griezmann and Saul Niguez.
And Yannick Carrasco secured the three points with an angled finish from another Griezmann through ball 17 minutes from time before Raul Garcia netted a late consolation for the hosts.
UEFA awarded their showpiece event for next season to Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano earlier in the day.
And the feel-good factor around Atletico following their 1-0 victory over Malaga to open their new 68,000 capacity home at the weekend continued with a commanding display in their fifth away trip in six games so far this season.
“It is another important step for the club. Hopefully on the field we can match the growth of the club,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
“We are making an enormous effort. We have played five games away from home and the response has been positive.”
Sevilla moved into second, two points behind Barca, as Jesus Navas scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Las Palmas.
Alaves remain without a point or even a goal after five games as Luisinho’s winner handed Deportivo la Coruna 1-0 win for their first victory of the season.
Leganes stay in the top half after a 0-0 draw at home to Girona.
Representatives of the governments of Nigeria and Spain witnessed the landmark signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a five-year technical and commercial partnership between the League Management Company of Nigeria (LMC) and the Spanish League Board (LFP).
Chairman of the LMC, Shehu Dikko, singed for the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) while the President of LaLiga, Javier Tebas signed for the Spanish League, with Nigeria’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, and the Spanish Ambassador to Nigeria, Alfonso Barnuevo Sebastian de Erice, counter- signing as witnesses for their respective national leagues.
A New Page In History
Highlighting the long standing sporting relationship between the two leagues was the presence of some former Nigerian international players who at some stages in the past played for La Liga clubs – Victor Ikpeba, who played for Real Betis, Mutui Adepoju, who played for Racing Santander and Real Sociedad, Gbenga Okunowo and Haruna Babangida, both of whom played for Barcelona clubs.
While Dalung described the relationship as “a new page in the history of football administration in Nigeria, Banuevo offered assurances that the partnership would produce “a win-win outcome” for both Nigeria and Spain.
For Dikko, the LMC chairman, the NPFL and La Liga partnership marks the beginning of “a journey through a new road hitherto not travelled in an effort to deliver on our mandate to improve the quality and fortunes of the football league in Nigeria along international best practices.”
“We are pleased to be leading reforms and to achieve that, we decided to align with global best practices by emulating those doing things well and right. We have a lot to learn and benefit from the La Liga and we believe that the La Liga also has some things to learn from us,” Dikko said.
The partnership agreement, which will run for five years will in the first instance focus on key areas of capacity development, training for coaches and club administrators; inter club exchanges and commercial activities including joint marketing.
“There is a fight for the heart and pocket of Nigerians to love and buy into our domestic football league and La Liga is ready to work with us on that.
“Stakeholders are already getting interested, as they have seen one of the best leagues in the world associating with us.
“This will help us move forward and many more good things will follow. We shall move from this point to a point where we will in turn begin to support other leagues in Africa,” the LMC Chairman stated.
Tebas said that the La Liga will through the partnership provide assistance to the NPFL in the areas of training of Coaches, club administrators and exchange of playing tours by La Liga and NPFL Clubs.
“For us at La Liga, if through this partnership, the NPFL is developed, it is of benefit for La Liga,” declared the Spanish League President.
He said: “We would also be assisting Nigerian players where possible to get chances to play for La Liga Clubs”.
Ambassador Barnuevo, who had earlier received officials of the LMC and the La Liga on Monday and further graced the signing ceremony, said he was pleased to witness the epoch making event.
“I know how Nigerians love football and I can tell you that in this relationship, Nigeria and Spain will win. We already have strong social and economic relations and this MOU will further strengthen our sporting ties. We take this relationship serious because the La Liga is one of the most important companies in Spain.”
Nigeria’s Youth and Sports Minister, who had also received officials of both leagues in his office on Monday, also expressed delight at the consummation of the agreement and gave assurances that the partnership would unbundle and open up platforms for the exchange of ideas to engage young Nigerians.
“It will transcend beyond football to other areas and while we shall be relying on the expertise of the La Liga to improve our league, we also have something to offer which will benefit La Liga.”
The signing of the partnership, he said, was ” a mark of confidence and trust in Nigeria football and we look forward to more robust engagement in future”.