Domestic form will count for nothing when city rivals Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompié lock horns for a UEFA Europa League quarter-final spot.
Those were the sentiments of home coach Unai Emery, whose charges are 13 places and 23 points clear of a Betis side rooted to the foot of the Spanish Liga. "It will be a great day for both teams but there are no favourites," he insisted. "We know Betis very well. There is no point looking at past results, all that matters is the here and now. We want to enjoy the moment and we'll be playing for the win. I'm expecting a tight match played at high intensity."
Further proof of Emery's cautious approach is his exhaustive assessment of the Verdiblancos. "We have studied Betis in great detail. We know how they play and which players will be involved," the 42-year-old explained. "[Alfred] N'Diaye is a strong player who gives them a powerful physical presence in defensive midfield. Rubén Castro is another important player for them who is capable of scoring goals."
A Sevilla squad, buoyed by a sequence of three consecutive league wins, is also jam-packed with quality. Among their most courted talents is Croatia playmaker Ivan Rakitić, who is savouring a "special occasion". "It is the most exciting match I have ever played in. It is one we will always remember and we're very lucky to be involved in this derby on the European stage. Everyone in Seville is talking about the tie," he said.
Far from getting swept away in the euphoria of Thursday's round of 16 opener, however, Rakitić remains grounded and fully aware of Sevilla's strong affinity with this competition. "Everyone knows what Sevilla have achieved in the Europa League. We have won two UEFA Cups, so it's something which is very special for the supporters. We know tomorrow's game will be tough but we've prepared in the best possible manner."
With Sevilla having won their last two home derbies by four goals, and Betis in the last 16 for the first time since 2006, the visitors will need to draw on their impressive form in Europe this term – just one defeat in ten fixtures. "We come here with confidence," said coach Gabriel Calderón. "We have to keep our good form going; we played well against Villarreal [in the Liga] and Rubin Kazan, and we must play like that again."
Having managed a mere six goals in their eight games since matchday one yet conceded only three, Betis will be looking to keep it tight at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Calderón is clear where his side will have to be especially vigilant. "We must continue not conceding goals in the first few minutes; we've improved that lately," he said. "Sevilla are very dangerous from free-kicks and corners thanks to players like Rakitić, but in football you have to play to win if you want a positive result. This city deserves matches like this. It should be a party for the fans."
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