BARCELONA (Reuters) - Sevilla looked set to miss out on European football for the first time in six seasons a couple of weeks ago but coach Joaquin Caparros has revived their fortunes and on Saturday they could clinch qualification at local rivals Real Betis.
With Barcelona already crowned Liga champions, the top four decided and three clubs already relegated with two rounds of matches remaining, attention in Spain has turned to which teams will take Europa League spots by finishing fifth to seventh.
Betis are fifth on 59 points with at least a Europa League playoff spot in the bag, Villarreal sixth on 57, Sevilla seventh on 54 with Getafe eighth on 52.
Sevilla have held local bragging rights over Betis for the last five seasons, winning three consecutive Europa League titles and reaching the latter stages of the Champions League in the last two years.
This season, though, Betis are already assured of a return to European football and a draw or win in the derby will ensure they finish above their hated neighbours for the first time since 2013.
For Sevilla, victory in Saturday’s match would not only avenge a humiliating 5-3 loss at home to Betis in January but, if Getafe fail to beat Atletico Madrid, guarantee at least seventh place.
Such a prospect looked unlikely after Sevilla slumped to an eighth defeat in 2018 by losing 2-1 at struggling Levante in late April, less than a week after they were hammered 5-0 by Barcelona in the King’s Cup final.
Italian Vincenzo Montella had just led Sevilla into the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time by beating Manchester United but the defeat at Levante prompted club president Jose Castro to sack him.
Caparros was brought in until the end of the season for a second spell in charge and quickly galvanised the team, who beat Real Sociedad 1-0 in his first game in charge and then won 3-2 against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
“Caparros hasn’t had long to work with us but he’s changed the mood of a team that was in free fall,” said Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado.
Villarreal can take a step closer towards a Europa League place when they visit already-relegated Deportivo La Coruna.
Champions Barca visit Levante looking to move within one game of finishing the season without losing a game, while third-placed Real Madrid play at home to Celta Vigo.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney