BARCELONA — His team trailing against its fiercest rival, coach Jorge Sampaoli orchestrated a 2-1 comeback at Real Betis that lifted Sevilla to the top of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Sampaoli’s two halftime substitutions sparked the turnaround in Spain’s most heated city derby.
Substitute Vicente Iborra got the winning goal in the 75th minute to silence the Benito Villamarin Stadium following Gabriel Mercado’s equalizer.
“Vicente contributed immediately and had a lot to do with the transformation of the team,” Sampaoli said.
Betis dominated the first half and took the lead on a free kick by Riza Durmisi in the 36th which slipped through the defensive barrier.
But Sampaoli’s decisions during the break to replace Franco Vazquez with Iborra and an ineffective Pablo Sarabia with Wissam Ben Yedder completely swung the match to the visitors’ favor.
“The first half didn’t reflect who we are as a team,” Iborra said. “Nobody believed in us at halftime, but we did what we needed to. We changed everything. The first half was theirs, but the second half was ours from start to finish, and reflects what we are doing this season.”
The second half was exactly that, a showing of a physical, disciplined and confident team that has won the right to be called a title contender during Sampaoli’s first season in charge.
The win in the Seville derby, which came three days after Sevilla beat Leicester 2-1 in the Champions League, pulled it level on points with Liga leader Real Madrid. Madrid plays at Villarreal on Sunday, and has a game in hand at Celta Vigo.