BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Sevilla drew 0-0 at Valencia on Sunday as its bid for an automatic Champions League berth continued to fade amid speculation over the future of coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Sevilla was mounting an outside challenge for the Spanish title through the first seven months of the season, but its goal now is just to secure a place in Europe’s top competition for next season.
The draw meant fourth-placed Sevilla fell three points behind third-placed Atletico Madrid, which beat Osasuna 3-0 on Saturday.
Sevilla has only one win in its last seven league matches, a slump that overlapped with its elimination by Leicester from the Champions League Round of 16.
The decline has also coincided with increasing tension in Seville over whether Sampaoli will honor his contract through the end of next season.
Earlier this week, Sevilla issued a statement calling it “unacceptable” that the president of the Argentine football federation said he would meet Sampaoli over the possibility of him taking over the national team from the fired Edgardo Bauza.
Sampaoli, who tried to quash speculation this week that he would take over his country’s team, did so once again after the match.
“After such a frenetic game in which I was so emotionally invested in my team, I don’t know what to say about my future because nothing has changed,” Sampaoli said. “I repeat, I am focused on the six games remaining for Sevilla to achieve its goals for the institution that hired me and believed in me.
“Let others speak about meetings that they have. I can only speak for myself. I haven’t met with anyone.”
The closest Sevilla went to scoring at Mestalla Stadium was when substitute Stevan Jovetic hit the post in the 17th minute, shortly after he replaced injured Victor “Vitolo” Machin.
Valencia likewise mustered very little beyond a header by Munir El Haddadi that Sevilla back Mariano cleared from his goal line before half an hour was up.
Nani returned to the pitch for Valencia as a late substitute in his first match since recovering from a muscle injury that had sidelined him for almost two months.
The draw ended Valencia’s streak of three consecutive victories, but extended its unbeaten run at home to seven matches under caretaker coach Salvador “Voro” Gonzalez.
“My task was to avoid relegation, but I don’t believe that because I have achieved that objective that they have to hire me to coach next year,” Voro said. “I see the team as engaged and wanting to compete, and now we can enjoy playing. That’s our goal now.”
The top-three finishers in la Liga go directly to next season’s Champions League, while the fourth-placed team faces a playoff to join the group phase.
LEGANES 0, ESPANYOL 1
Substitute Leo Baptistao scored a stoppage-time goal to keep Espanyol in the running for a Europa League berth.
The Brazilian forward returned in the last round after a heel injury had sidelined him for four months.
Baptistao scored the winner by starting a counterattack with Gerard Moreno before chipping Leganes goalkeeper Iago Herrerin.
Leganes was left clinging to the last spot above the relegation zone.
REAL BETIS 2, EIBAR 0
Eibar saw its run of three consecutive victories ended after Jonas Martin scored early and substitute Dani Ceballos sealed Betis’ win in the 90th.
After having lost three straight matches, Betis rebounded to move away from the drop.
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