x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sanchez shooting for the stars

Sevilla are licking their wounds from their Copa del Rey mauling ahead of the Andalusian derby with Almeria.

Alvaro Negredo has scored 14 goals this season for Almeria.
Alvaro Negredo has scored 14 goals this season for Almeria.

Andalusia accounts for more derbies in Spain's Primera Liga than any other region. Sevilla, Real Betis, Malaga, Recreativo Huelva and Almeria all hail from the scorching south and tonight's game between Sevilla and Almeria cannot come quickly enough for Manolo Jimenez's third-placed giants.

Last week, with Sevilla leading 2-1 from the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final against Athletic Bilbao, their always colourful president Jose Maria del Nido threatened: "We are going to eat the lion from its mane to its tail." The comment attracted widespread coverage and inspired Athletic to a 3-0 second-leg victory and a final appearance against Barcelona in May. It was a rare slip in another otherwise excellent season for Sevilla, yet they face a tough test from an improving Almeria now managed by the former Mexico and Real Madrid legend Hugo Sanchez.

A five-time Pichichi winner, the award given each season to the Primera Liga's top scorer Sanchez's 234 goals put him second in the all-time league top scorers' chart. The Valencia manager Unai Emery was responsible for Almeria's promotion in 2007 and an outstanding eighth-placed finish last season. Concern after Emery's summer departure for a grander club was justified as Almeria slipped to 18th before Christmas.

A management change saw the surprise arrival of Sanchez, replacing Gonzalo Arconada, for his first management job outside Mexico and he has already justified his appointment. Having lost just twice in nine games, Almeria sit comfortably in 11th place with the league's fourth best home record, a considerable achievement for a club who average 11,000 supporters at games. Sevilla's crowds are four times larger and they will be hollering for rival Andalusian blood tonight, but with talents like Alvaro Negredo - whose 18 goals last season and 14 so far this show a strike rate which even Hugo would approve of - the smallest team in Andalusia are unlikely to be daunted or intimidated by the biggest.

amitten@thenational.ae