SEVILLE, Spain – Sevilla defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in 27th-round action on Saturday in La Liga, keeping itself in the battle for a Champions League berth next season.
Athletic’s starting line-up at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium suggested that head coach Jose Angel Ziganda’s priority was the first leg of his team’s Europa League last-16 clash against French club Marseille on Thursday.
Ziganda, whose club is in 13th place in the Spanish league, kept three of his regular starters on the bench: Raul Garcia, Aritz Aduriz and Beñat Etxebarria.
On the other side of the field, Italian coach Vincenzo Montella fielded all of his usual starters except for injured Jesus Navas, who was replaced with Mexican Miguel Layun.
The host side, which lost last weekend to second-placed Atletico Madrid, sought to regain lost ground in the fight for the fourth and final Champions League group stage berth out of La Liga.
Sevilla took the initiative from the outset and heaped pressure on Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal.
That aggression paid off in the 27th minute, when Colombian striker Luis Muriel received a pass from Franco Vazquez and scored at close range.
The home side then doubled its lead five minutes later on a Vazquez header off a pass by Frenchman Steven Nzonzi.
The visitors unsuccessfully tried to close the gap before the break, with Iñaki Williams firing two shots.
Athletic then became the aggressor following the intermission against a Sevilla side that began playing with less pace and urgency, although the change in dynamic was not reflected on the scoreboard.
Sevilla started the day in fifth place and now is four points clear of sixth-placed Villarreal and five behind fourth-placed Valencia, which hosts Real Betis on Sunday.