An important Sevilla FC win that puts the side within five points of fourth, awaiting Valencia's result against Betis tomorrow. Goals from Muriel and Vázquez in the first-half were enough to sink Athletic Club, who looked for an immediate reaction in the second-half with a triple substitution. A small flurry wasn't enough to give the Basques a goal, and the Nervionenses come away with all the spoils
Just six days after a tough home blow against Atlético Madrid, Sevilla confirmed their recovery with another La Liga win - this time against Athletic Bilbao; Sevilla have now picked up 12 points in a possible 15 over the last five matches. Vincenzo Montella set up with a tried and tested starting eleven and was not let down against a side who seemed preoccupied with a European date with Marseille this coming Thursday. Two goals in five minutes - one from Muriel and another from Vázquez gave the Nervionenses a comfortable lead to work with, and despite a triple Bilsubstitutiontion at half-time, it was Sevilla who had the clearer chances throughout the game and looked the more likely side to find a third goal. With Valencia and Manchester United the next two opponents on the horizon, a week of recovery will be crucial in determining the course of the rest of the season.
The chilling rain may have seen many sides shy away from a tough fixture in Athletic Bilbao but from the early minutes it seemed clear that Sevilla were ready to inject energy into the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. Though an early chance through Iñaki Williams could have seen the visitors in-front quickly, Sevilla responded with a hat-trick of chances that troubled Kepa in the Basques' goal. Joaquín Correa would twice be there to cause havoc in the Bilbao area, Ever Banega would fire over from 20 yards and Pablo Sarabia would draw a fine save at Kepa's near post but Sevilla would have to be patient before finding the breakthrough. Fifteen minutes in, the Nervionenses had already fired their warning shots.
Sevilla fired warning shots early but would have to be patient before the deadlock was eventually broken
Sarabia, Muriel, Correa and Vázquez looked constant threats to the Basque back-line and it seemed only a matter of time before Sevilla would find their way through. Adding to the impressive start Muriel would go closer than anyone just before 25 minutes had passed. A beautiful Franco Vázquez cross was met by the head of the Colombian but the effort would cannon back off Kepa's crossbar and bounce clear of danger. Not two minutes later, the striker would make amends for the lost chance. A cutting ball from Vázquez would leave Muriel with a tight angle to overcome, but with a fierce right-footed effort the striker would finally find a way past Kepa. Sevilla had their breakthrough and would not have to wait long to widen the deficit; after a pinpoint cross from N'Zonzi, Vázquez would be involved once again - this time scoring with a perfect header that left the Basque goalkeeper with no chance at all.
With 15 minutes to go before half-time, Sevilla had the game just where they wanted it. Though, looking for a reaction, it was the visitors who looked more likely before the break. Two chances for Williams could have changed the course of the game, but a solid Sergio Rico was there to deny the first, and the second lacked the accuracy to threaten the Sevilla net. In control heading into the second-half, Sevilla would need to respond to a triple Bilbao change which saw Aduriz, Beñat and Raúl García enter into the game. Though the changes did have some effect, with a more energetic Bilbao come the restart, Sevilla still seemed comfortable and it would be Muriel and Vázquez once again who would have the best chances to find a third goal in the game.
Despite a triple Bilbao change at half-time, Sevilla were the team to come closest to a third
Montella took advantage of the Nervionenses' control and made a change, subbing Muriel for Nolito. Not two minutes from coming onto the pitch, the ex-City forward would come close to a spectacular goal, unleashing a stunning right-footed volley that drew an impressive palmed save out of Kepa - who once again proved himself to be the best Bilbao player on the pitch. Looking less and less convinced they could fight back into the game, Athletic looked for spaces in behind Lenglet and Mercado but were frustrated time and again by the centre-back pairing. Franco Vázquez would have one more golden chance to make it three after a stunning bit of play put him one on one with Kepa, but a big hand from the Athletic keeper would ensure the deficit stayed at two.
In control and seeing out the game comfortably, Sevilla seemed content with a two-goal victory that puts the side within five points of Valencia CF in fourth. Marcelino's side play Betis tomorrow before they travel on Saturday to the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán for one of the most important games of the season. Sevilla will have one day more to prepare and will then turn their attention to the second-leg of the Champions League round of 16 with Manchester United.
2. SEVILLA FC: Sergio Rico, Layún, Mercado, Lenglet (Kjaer, 87), Escudero, NZonzi, Banega, Franco Vázquez, Sarabia, Correa (Pizarro, 90) and Muriel (Nolito, 67).
0. ATHLETIC CLUB: Kepa, Lekue, Yeray, Iñigo Martínez, Saborit, San José, Iturraspe (Raúl García, 46), Susaeta, Mikel Vesga (Beñat, 46), Córdoba (Aduriz, 46) and Williams.
GOLES: 1-0, 27: Muriel; 2-0, 32: Franco Vázquez.
REFEREE: Undiano Mallenco. Yellows for Saborit, Nolito, San José, Iñigo Martínez and Correa.