'Seville derby tougher than a 'Clasico'
The Real Madrid-Barcelona "clasico" is televised around the world and often decides the La Liga title, but a Seville derby is a tougher proposition, Barca defender and former Sevilla favourite Dani Alves has said.
Real Betis travel across the Andalucian city to take on neighbours Sevilla on Sunday for a derby of huge importance locally, and a match of major significance in the push for the European places in La Liga.
"They may not be as important as a Barca-Real in terms of the quality of players, the spectacle on offer, and the media coverage, but they are passionate games," Alves was quoted by Spanish media as telling Algerian newspaper Le Buteur.
"They are tougher than a 'Clasico'."
Betis lie fourth in La Liga with 19 points from 11 games, four behind champions Real Madrid in third, and 12 behind unbeaten leaders Barcelona.
Most significantly for their supporters, however, they have a four-point advantage over Sevilla in 10th.
Betis coach Pepe Mel, a former striker for the club, was refreshingly honest about his enthusiasm for Spain's most highly-charged city derby.
"This week I need to prime Pepe Mel the fan rather than Pepe Mel the professional. My players need someone to who is going to add that bit of spice," he told a news conference.
"From outside the city, I can understand people who say it is just another three points. Those who live here know that is not true. The joy we took from winning the last derby there (2-1) has lasted until today."
Sevilla, like Betis, have been inconsistent of late but did beat Real at the Sanchez Pizjuan 1-0 in September, and narrowly lost to Barca 3-2 there conceding two goals in the last few minutes.
ATLETICO KEEPING PACE
Sevilla and Betis, along with Qatari-owned Malaga, Levante and Valencia are all lagging behind, leaving Atletico Madrid as the only side really keeping pace with the two Spanish powerhouses.
Atletico, in second with 28 points, returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory at home to Getafe last weekend and travel to take on lowly Granada on Sunday.
They are three points behind Barca, who are at home to Real Zaragoza on Saturday.
Tito Vilanova could have Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique back from injury at the centre of defence, but Sergio Busquets is suspended.
Real have yet to eat in to Barca's eight-point advantage over them, but host struggling Athletic Bilbao on Saturday with midfielder Sami Khedira and striker Karim Benzema back after injury.
"It's an important difference but it isn't definitive," Barca defender Gerard Pique told sports daily Mundo Deportivo of their lead over the champions.
"I always remember Pep Guardiola's first year. We had a 12-point gap, we thought we had it in the bag, and we had to go to the Bernabeu and win to prevent them from closing to within a point. Also, Madrid are a stronger team now."