Sevilla rises to top of La Liga with comeback at Betis
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — His team trailing against its fiercest rival, coach Jorge Sampaoli orchestrated a 2-1 comeback at Real Betis that lifted Sevilla to the top of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Sampaoli's two halftime substitutions sparked the turnaround in Spain's most heated city derby.
Substitute Vicente Iborra got the winning goal in the 75th minute to silence the Benito Villamarin Stadium following Gabriel Mercado's equalizer. Both goals came on free kicks perfectly executed by Sevilla, and poorly defended by Betis.
Betis dominated the first half and took the lead on a free kick by Riza Durmisi in the 36th which slipped through the defensive barrier.
But Sampaoli's decisions during the break to replace Franco Vazquez with Iborra and an ineffective Pablo Sarabia with Wissam Ben Yedder completely swung the match to the visitors' favor.
"The first half didn't reflect who we are as a team," Iborra said. "Nobody believed in us at halftime, but we did what we needed to. We changed everything. The first half was theirs, but the second half was ours from start to finish, and reflects what we are doing this season."
The win in the Seville derby, which came three days after Sevilla beat Leicester 2-1 in the Champions League, pulled it level on points with Liga leader Real Madrid. Madrid plays at Villarreal on Sunday, and has a game in hand at Celta Vigo.
Mercado equalized in the 57th by finishing off a save made by goalkeeper Antonio Adan of Adil Rami's point-blank header. Adan had been left to fend for himself when Betis' players failed to pull an offside trap on a free kick.
Iborra completed the comeback on another set-piece when Steven Nzoni headed on a free kick for Iborra to toe past Adan, who again got no help from his defenders.
"Their goals were too easy. That's unacceptable, especially against our greatest rival," Betis midfielder Dani Ceballos said. "In the first half our attitude was impeccable, but in the second half we got scared and withdrew into our area. This is a painful loss."
ALAVES 2, VALENCIA 1
Alaves continued to impress with a second consecutive win for three victories in four matches, after mounting a fightback against Valencia at home.
Carlos Soler put Valencia ahead in the 70th when he struck a volley from a tight angle.
But Ibai Gomez leveled and substitute Aleksandar Katai got the winner in the 86th one minute after going on.
Valencia, which failed to build on its midweek victory over Madrid, finished with 10 men after Fabian Orellana got his second yellow card.