Athletic hold court in LaLiga title race
Sevilla’s title chase has stalled. It surprised me because they were like a racing car moving to the front of the pack but Athletic put the brakes on Julen Lopetegui’s side on their own turf. Sevilla had won nine of their last 10 games at the Sánchez Pizjuán but Athletic once again pulled on the robes of LaLiga’s presiding judge. The Lions did the same eight days ago, beating Atlético, and last night an Iñaki Williams goal in the 89th minute was enough to dent Sevilla’s hopes. Shortly before the Athletic striker scored his younger brother, Nico, who looks like a decent player, showed the Williams touch when he found the back of the net only for the goal to be ruled out for the most marginal of offside decisions.
Sevilla’s displeasure at the result, manifested in Lopetegui’s yellow card for claiming a handball in the area that VAR didn’t even think worthy of a second look, and in the crestfallen pitch side interview given by Jules Koundé after the game confirmed that the Andalusian side consider themselves contenders for the title. Their place in next season’s Champions League is assured but they felt they could achieve even more. Sevilla’s game against Real Madrid next weekend is still an important one, but now probably more so for the other three members of the current top four than for Lopetegui’s side, who will rue the points dropped in the Sánchez Pizjuán. As for Athletic, they seem to have recovered from the blow of losing two cup finals in two weeks and can still look towards Europe themselves, albeit a berth in the inaugural Conference League.
Real Madrid still to face Athletic banana skin
Athletic still have yet to host Real Madrid in the penultimate round of Liga fixtures, another potential banana skin for Zinedine Zidane’s side who are fighting on two fronts and plagued by injury problems. Raphaël Varane will miss the Champions League return against Chelsea and Fede Valverde is awaiting the result of a PCR test that both player and coach hope will permit him to play. Sevilla-Athletic was a strong start to a potentially decisive week: today Manchester City and PSG face off for a place in the Champions League final. Tomorrow it is the turn of Chelsea and Madrid and on Thursday Villarreal play Arsenal in the Europa League semis. At the weekend, Barcelona host Atlético and Madrid welcome Sevilla. A wonderful set of fixtures but alas without fans, after Spain saw the possibility of an imminent return for supporters frustrated.
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