SEVILLA THREAT FOR REAL

Los­ing to Sam­paoli’s side would hand ad­van­tage to Barcelona

New Straits Times - - Sport -

JORGE Sam­paoli’s chances of land­ing his dream job at Barcelona may have come and gone, but he could still hand Barca the La Liga ti­tle on a plate should Sevilla shock Real Madrid to­day.

Madrid are in the driv­ing seat for their first league ti­tle in five years as they also tar­get a first La Liga and Cham­pi­ons League dou­ble since 1958.

Zine­dine Zi­dane’s men are level on points with Barcelona at the top of the ta­ble, but have three games re­main­ing to the Cata­lans’ two.

How­ever, thanks to Barca’s bet­ter head-to-head record, any Real de­feat will put the ti­tle race back in their ri­vals’ hands.

The spec­tre of Sevilla boss Sam­paoli adds an ex­tra edge to an al­ready vi­tal en­counter.

The Ar­gen­tine has been ful­some in his praise of Barca’s Lionel Messi and Ney­mar since moving to Sevilla, which fu­elled spec­u­la­tion he could take over the vacant po­si­tion at the Camp Nou next sea­son.

How­ever, with Barca ex­pected to turn in­stead to Ath­letic Bil­bao coach Ernesto Valverde, Sam­paoli still looks set to ful­fil his am­bi­tion of coach­ing Messi by tak­ing over as Ar­gentina boss at the end of this cam­paign.

And what bet­ter way to en­dear him­self to Messi than by se­verely dent­ing Real’s ti­tle chal­lenge?

Madrid, though, are brim­ming with con­fi­dence af­ter with­stand­ing an Atletico Madrid on­slaught to reach their third Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in four years on Wed­nes­day.

“La Liga is the ti­tle I have left to win, it would be a spe­cial one for me but I don’t want to have to choose be­tween win­ing La Liga or the Cham­pi­ons League,” said Madrid de­fender Na­cho.

“We have three fi­nals to win in La Liga.”

Sevilla look set to fin­ish fourth but need one more point to guar­an­tee a re­turn to the Cham­pi­ons League and to win their last two matches to have any chance of oust­ing Atletico for third.

Sevilla haven’t won at the Bern­abeu since 2008, but are one of just three sides to have beaten them al­ready in the league this sea­son.

How­ever, the An­dalu­sians do not ap­pear the same side now as they were in scor­ing two late goals to beat the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons back in Jan­uary.

Sam­paoli’s men have only won three of their last 12 matches and haven’t won on the road since Fe­bru­ary.

Zi­dane has big de­ci­sions to make over whether to heav­ily ro­tate his side as he has done to great ef­fect in re­cent weeks or stick with the ma­jor­ity of the side that lost 2-1 at Atletico in mid­week, but still pro­gressed to next month’s fi­nal 4-2 on ag­gre­gate.

Gareth Bale and Dani Car­va­jal re­main out in­jured, while cen­tre­backs Pepe and Raphael Varane are doubt­ful.

Barca should at least force the ti­tle race to the last day of the sea­son by com­pound­ing more mis­ery on the end of Quique Se­tien’s time at Las Pal­mas.

Since Se­tien an­nounced he was leav­ing at the end of the sea­son in March, the Ca­nary Is­lan­ders’ form has slumped with just one win in eight games.

At the other end of the ta­ble, Sport­ing Gi­jon will be rel­e­gated if they fail to win at Eibar.

FIX­TURES: To­day — Es­panyol v Va­len­cia, Osasuna v Granada. To­mor­row

— Alaves v Celta Vigo, So­ciedad v Malaga, Pal­mas v Barcelona, Real Madrid v Sevilla, Vil­lar­real v De­portivo, Eibar v Gi­jon, Betis v Atletico Madrid, Bil­bao v Le­ganes.

PIC EPA

Real Madrid’s Isco (cen­tre) cel­e­brates with team­mates with Casemiro

(right) and Ron­aldo dur­ing their Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nal match against Atletico Madrid on Wed­nes­day.

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