Julen Lopetegui after Sevilla's latest defeat to Almeria. / EFE

Polarising rivals

Sevilla and Real Betis couldn't have had more different starts to their seasons, as the latter are league leaders

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

There's no greater divide when it comes to footballing neighbours than Real Betis and Sevilla. In the early stages of the new season, one is flying and the other is floundering.

Monchi, Sevilla's director of football, needed to use all his diplomacy last week to try to keep a connection between the players and raging travelling fans. He thought it was necessary to haul them out of the changing room back to the pitch post-game to apologise to the loyal followers.

It doesn't help that their cross-town rivals are looking down on them and the rest of La Liga, from the top of the table - they boast a perfect start to the season with three wins out of three.

Betis are building on a successful campaign last season, when they won the Copa del Rey and finished a creditable fifth place in the Primera Division.

Sevilla set standards by pushing Real Madrid for most of last season, before a disappointing fourth-placed finish. The malaise has continued as they have failed to win any of the opening three fixtures. Now, the fans are turning on coach Julen Lopetegui; a growing element of them is demanding his departure. In defence of the former Spain and Real Madrid coach, last season's successful team has been weakened. The club cashed in on the centre-back pairing which inspired the meanest back-line in the league. Jules Koundé was sold to Barça and Diego Carlos to Aston Villa for a combined income of €80 million. It has balanced the books but left the team unbalanced. Lopetegui's defence is that he has no defence. He's hanging onto his job as Monchi tries to negotiate deals. Kasper Dolberg arrived from Nice and free agent Adnan Januzaj was signed this week to bolster numbers – yet neither are centre-back

The departure of Lucas Ocampos typified the club's organisation right now. He boarded a flight to Amsterdam thinking that a €20 million deal had been done. Upon landing he was sent back to sender as Ajax hadn't sanctioned the financing. Eventually an agreement was made to loan him for a season.

Across the Andalusian capital at the Benito Villamarín, the vibe is far more relaxed. Manuel Pellegrini is managing the club expertly. Along with Real Madrid - this weekend's opponents - they have a one-hundred-per-cent record. Borja Iglesias is top of the scoring charts with Robert Lewandowski and life is swell.

Like Barcelona, they have had issues registering players due to the stringent financial rules in Spanish football. Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and striker Willian José have been unavailable so far as the club juggle numbers. Legend Joaquín Sánchez even offered to retire to free up a place in the squad but was told that won't be necessary

Monchi's message to the disgruntled 560 fans who'd travelled to see Sevilla lose in Almeria was: "Let's all go in the right direction". Maybe he should have pointed in the direction of their eternal rivals Real Betis and added "Just like them!"