- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

MADRID (AP) - Sevilla has to quickly change its focus.

After its 2-1 win over Leicester on Wednesday put the club in a strong position to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in nearly 60 years, Sevilla started preparing for Saturday’s derby against crosstown rival Real Betis.

Victory will give fans bragging rights, and keep Sevilla alive in the race for the Spanish league title, which would be the team’s first in more than 70 years.

“We are already thinking about the game this weekend,” said Sevilla midfielder Pablo Sarabia, who scored one of the goals on Wednesday. “Now it’s time to put all our efforts into the derby because we know that it will be a very demanding game.”

Sevilla is enjoying its best season in the Spanish league in a nearly decade. It finished third in 2007 and 2009 but hasn’t been a true contender since then. The last time if finished second was in 1956-57, 11 years after it won its only league trophy.

Jorge Sampaoli’s team is two points behind second-place Barcelona after 23 matches, and three points behind leader Real Madrid, which has a game in hand.

In addition to winning the league again, Sevilla has also been trying to establish itself as a top contender in the Champions League. The Spanish club is a three-time defending champion in the Europa League, but it hasn’t advanced past the last 16 in the top European club competition since 1958. It fell in the last 16 in 2008 and 2010.

Betis, meanwhile, has not been able to achieve much success recently, being relegated three times in eight seasons. A league champion in 1934-35, it has very little to play for the rest of the season.

“We all know what we will be playing for,” Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan said. “We know we have a responsibility toward the fans in this match and we are prepared for it. We are focused 100 percent on this match.”

Sitting 15th in the league standings with 24 points from 22 games, Betis hasn’t won in its last five games.

On Sunday, Madrid plays at sixth-place Villarreal, where it hasn’t won since 2014, while Barcelona takes on fourth-place Atletico Madrid at Vicente Calderon Stadium. Lionel Messi will be going for his 400th career victory in all competitions with the Catalan club.


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

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