Julen Lopetegui roars as the king of Seville and repays Monchi’s faith

Sid Lowe on 11 November 2019

When it was over, Julen Lopetegui started roaring, mouth so wide you could fit his half of Seville inside. He wore a wild look in his eyes and punched the air with the kind of force that dislocates shoulders. Which might not sound so unusual, but it is for him. Éver Banega was the first to leap into his arms, and then others followed, violence in the embrace.

Across the pitch, in the far corner where Banega was going now, the rest of Sevilla’s players hopped about, doing that disco thing, waving their arms up and down and shouting. Way above them at the Benito Villamarín were their fans: 6,000 had applied for tickets; 602 actually got them, and they were enjoying this. Now they were, anyway. The tension had gone with the whistle, and a 2-1 victory.

When, eventually, they got to the dressing room, the winners of the 130th Seville derby posed for a celebratory photo with two framed pictures the kitmen take everywhere, forever accompanying them on their journey – José Antonio Reyes and Antonio Puerta, born locally, raised at Sevilla and taken too soon. And then, late on Sunday night, they headed back outside again, their supporters still there, Betis’s gone now. Together they sang Sevilla’s anthem, which is much more than an anthem, and their version of the Marseillaise.

“We dedicate this victory to Reyes and Puerta,” said the captain, Jesús Navas, who knows what this match meant to them. Who knows what it means, full stop.

No one has played more league games for the club than Navas, going back 16 years. No one at Sevilla has played more derbies, either. Opposite him, no one at Betis has played more than Joaquín – the man who, when he scored the winner last year, declared that he could now retire happy but left unhappy this time. Most of the men with Navas, meanwhile, had never played one at all. Of the 14 footballers who played for Sevilla in the city’s “grand derby” and the country’s grandest on Sunday night, nine are new. And so is the manager. Lopetegui held, and lost, the two biggest jobs in Spanish football, becoming the Sevilla manager with a year of being coach at both Spain and Real Madrid, but he never experienced anything quite like this.

“You can’t fail to see what this means; we know what this game is,” Lopetegui had insisted last week. “Those of us that are new have done a crash course in the Seville derby.” But it wasn’t complete yet. Ten thousand fans turned up, flags and flares bringing colour, players lining up before them at their stadiums – and that was for training the day before. Flames lit up Triana bridge. On the morning of the match, Betis won the boat race on the Guadalquivir, a competition going back half a century. And as the team buses made their way there – just over four kilometres for Sevilla, not much more than 40 metres for Betis – they were given a guard of honour, accompanied en route. Upon arrival, more fans and more fireworks awaited.

This is the game you can’t lose, especially for the Betis manager Rubi, over whose head the axe hovered, held at bay by a last-minute winner against Celta and a draw at Madrid but not entirely banished. For Lopetegui, too. Madrid and Spain was heavy baggage with which to arrive in Seville, and some weren’t convinced. There was no rejection as such, but there were reservations. He would not have been their candidate as coach, even if he was Monchi’s – and on a three-year deal, no less. At Lopetegui’s presentation, the sporting director insisted, by way of explanation: “He needs to win.” He did, too. On Sunday night, above all.

Sevilla have impressed at times, the beginning of an idea forming and pretty fast for a club that brought in 13 players and moved out 15, trying to build an almost entirely new side. But they have flaws, particularly up front: Munir scored a hat-trick in Europe, but wasn’t in the squad for the derby and hasn’t scored a league goal; Chicharito Hernández has just one; and Munas Dabbur hasn’t played a minute. Luuk De Jong has played more than any striker, but came into Sunday with a solitary goal.

Sevilla began the season top but lost against Madrid and then let a 2-0 lead slip at Eibar, losing 3-2. They won the most enjoyable game so far, 3-2 against Real Sociedad, yet every time you were ready to take them seriously, seeing glimpses of a genuinely good team, they didn’t take that step. Real Madrid came, played defensively, and defeated them 1-0. At Barcelona, they dominated but lost 4-0. And last weekend they drew 1-1 with Atlético.

Julen Lopetegui (centre) celebrates with his Sevilla team after their derby victory at Real Betis.
Julen Lopetegui (centre) celebrates with his Sevilla team after their derby victory at Real Betis. Photograph: Cristina Quicler/AFP via Getty Images

Yet if Sevilla hadn’t won any of the big games, they’ve now won the biggest. Before the derby Lopetegui had been asked if this might prove a turning point and, while he not unjustly insisted that Sevilla are on the right track already, there was something in that idea which was revealed at the end – expressed in Lopetegui’s release. His reaction showed what this meant. It showed how much he had suffered, too.

Lucas Ocampos, the most impressive of Sevilla’s new signings, scored the first after 13 minutes – his fifth this season. At the other end, Fekir sliced just over the bar and Loren Moron equalised just before half-time. Then Alex Moreno drew a sharp save from Tomas Vaclik. It was no classic – Banega was one of the few to look like he had time to play – but it was a derby. Noisy, tense, different. Next, Luuk de Jong, the striker who took 19 shots to get his first goal and hadn’t yet got his second, smashed a second into the roof of the net to give Sevilla the lead. Banega had made it brilliantly, slipping away from one man and slipping the ball past four.

There was still half an hour left and Betis chucked everything at Sevilla: by the end, Joaquín, Tello, Fekir, Loren, and Borja Iglesias were all on the pitch, with Alex Moreno flying up outside them and Sergio Canals pretty much a one-man midfield. They racked up the shots, too – 18 of them. Loren hit the post, Joaquín on the floor appealing for a penalty, just before a wonderful run from Joaquín drew the best chance of all only for Tomas Vaclik to make a superb save at the far post from Moreno. And yet real chances were few. The delivery had been perfect that time but not the next, or the next. As time ticked the pressure grew and Sevilla got deeper, exhausted now, so the final ball got worse.

The nerves did too, right up until the final whistle, leaving Rubi shaking his head. “We deserved something more,” he said.

“We showed courage and all that was lacking was the result. This hurts but it’s not over yet,” Loren said. Sidnei added: “It’s cruel but that’s football.”

Sevilla had won the derby – their first derby, in most cases. De Jong said: “It’s a special game, the great derby, and it’s special for me now too. It’ll be in my head a long time, my [whole] life.”

Ocampos said: “I’m more than happy. I come from a country where clásicos are important. It’s my first derby. I won the most important one in Argentina and now I’ve won one of the most important here. I’m off to celebrate with my teammates; we deserve this.”

Diego Carlos called it “mad, magical, crazy”. Sergio Reguilón could barely walk but no one was wiping the smile from his face. “We knew it was a special game,” he said but not, he admitted, quite this special. “I’m exhausted, but so happy, like a little kid: I’m blown away, it’s wild: this is the hostia [the dog’s bollocks],” he grinned, a little potty-mouthed. “That’s it, that’s the word: the hostia.”

Lopetegui said: “It was exciting, emotional. We showed great personality at an important moment. There’s a lot of passion, it’s very special. It’s been fantastic and we got a happy ending, too – and when you get a happy ending you enjoy it even more. We’re very happy and we saw what it means for the fans, the team, the city.”

For him, too. Sevilla’s coach was the last man out there late on Sunday night, standing alone in front of the fans as they waited to be allowed to head home. High in the stand, they were singing his name. He applauded, gestured, had one final look and then at last turned to leave. Waiting quietly for him was Monchi, the sporting director who believed in him. He put an arm round Lopetegui’s shoulders and they went down the tunnel together at the end of Monchi’s 46th derby. For Lopetegui it was just the first, but it was a start.

Talking points

• There was a moment when the camera caught the Eibar left-back José Ángel muttering: “This is a fucking storm.” And he wasn’t talking about the weather, either – although it was grim in up at Ipurua, rain swirling round. Instead, he was talking about Real Madrid, who were putting in easily their best performance of the season, all quick touches and movement, Eden Hazard back in tackle-hurdling mode, and tearing Eibar apart.

• Silly, just silly. Genuinely, it has reached the point now where it’s a disappointment if Lionel Messi doesn’t score a brilliant free-kick every single time he gets the chance to take one. This weekend he scored two stupidly good ones, bending them both over the wall and right into the corner. Which meant that, thanks to a penalty, he wrapped up a dead-ball hat-trick. Afterwards, Ernesto Valverde was asked if he almost prefers Messi to have a free-kick than a penalty. He is, after all, running at a 40% hit rate this season in the league. Yes, fortyflippingpercent. “Don’t you believe it,” Valverde said. But then he added: “Well, almost. We know with Messi than anything can happen.”

• Already the record holder at Deportivo de La Coruña, Lucas Pérez is now the record-holder at Alavés too, after he scored for a seventh consecutive game as Alavés beat Valladolid 3-0.

• That goal from Capa: whoosh! A wonderful volley and in the 88th minute too, to give Athletic a 2-1 win against Levante. And what about Ferran Torres’s 97th-minute belter for Valencia? Tasty.

Real Sociedad 1-1 Leganés, Alavés 3-0 Valladolid, Valencia 2-0 Granada, Eibar 0-4 Real Madrid, Barcelona 4-1 Celta, Mallorca 3 – 1 Villarreal, Athletic 2-1 Levante, Atlético 3-1 Espanyol, Getafe 0-0 Osasuna, Betis 1-2 Sevilla 

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Barcelona 12 18 25
2 Real Madrid 12 16 25
3 Atletico Madrid 13 7 24
4 Sevilla 13 3 24
5 Real Sociedad 13 7 23
6 Athletic Bilbao 13 5 20
7 Getafe 13 3 20
8 Granada 13 2 20
9 Valencia 13 1 20
10 Osasuna 13 3 19
11 Villarreal 13 7 18
12 Levante 13 0 17
13 Valladolid 13 -3 17
14 Alaves 13 -4 15
15 Eibar 13 -7 15
16 Mallorca 13 -7 14
17 Real Betis 13 -8 13
18 Celta Vigo 13 -12 9
19 Espanyol 13 -16 8
20 Leganes 13 -15 6

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