Sevilla tighten the title trio as Athletic fail again on the road
A hard-fought victory will add more confidence to Sampaoli's side who stay on the coattails of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Valverde can be proud, but again has nothing to show.
A win that champions need
It was far from an easy night for the home side that each week refuse to fall by the wayside of their more illustrious rivals in the hunt for the Primera title. But the three points were all that mattered on a night when Sampaoli rested Vitolo and had to do without Nico Pareja, Steven N'Zonzi and Pablo Sarabia who were all suspended. Valverde in the other dugout will leave disappointed to maintain Athletic's terrible record away from home - the worst in the entire league - but proud of the effort his players put in.
The first half was fairly evenly balanced, however, was probably edged in play by the Andalusian side who looked more composed on the ball and certainly confident in possession. But that confidence was fully tested by a Basque team that hunted in packs to pressure their hosts whenever feasible, not only when they encroached on their penalty area, but as far upfield as they could. This included when Sergio Rico had the ball at his feet. And the tactic was proving effective as mistakes were forced or, at least, fluid chance creation was limited. But it was an incident in the 14th minute that gave the scoreline the look that it would have for the rest of the match.
Spot kick to decide
Vietto showed some guile wide on the right and as he jinked into the box he drew a lazy trip with some quick footwork. The ref pointed to the spot. Up stepped Jovetic whose strike was saved, but Iborra followed up with the finish. It's worth noting that the goalscorer had already stepped into the area before his teammate struck the dead ball so Athletic have further reason to feel hard done by.
Athletic on top but no reward
The second half was as end-to-end as the first, with little sideways play and, as pressure continued to be applied by both sides, the phases of play were stopped and restarted over and over again. But the phases, short as they were, had Basque shirts directing them more and more. Rico in the home goal was seeing much more of the ball and as well as getting the ball into the area early at every opportunity, Valverde had clearly had a message of shoot on sight, with Williams and Raúl Garcia in particular trying their luck whenever a glimmer appeared. But it wasn't to be. Sevilla march on with their impressive season and know that tonight's hard-fought three points were the type that champions often need.
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