After finishing the 2017/18 season in 6th place (their highest finish since 2004/05) and beating deadly rivals Sevilla 5-3 in their own backyard along the way, fans of Los Verdiblancos were excited to see how their club could move forward.
The signings of William Carvalho and Diego Lainez – for 20 and 14 million euros – only served to put this ambitious intent on paper. And whilst the following season did include some memorable moments, such as reaching the Copa del Rey Semi-Finals and a famous 2-1 victory in the San Siro against AC Milan, the Andalusian club’s inconsistency led them to an underwhelming 10th place finish, despite a final day 2-0 win at the Bernabéu against Real Madrid.
Though Quique Setién’s men were only three points away from the final Europa League spot taken by Espanyol, too many defeats took their toll. After the increasingly unpopular Setién left the post, Rubi, the coach who had guided the Catalan club to that impressive seventh place finish, was appointed.
But for Real Betis, the 2019/20 campaign was an all too familiar a story. After spending big money on both Borja Iglesias (who had scored 17 LaLiga goals for Rubi’s Espanyol) and Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, the season’s expectations were high. However yet again fans would be disappointed as the club slumped to a 15th place finish, just five points clear of the relegation zone.
The appointment of Manuel Pellegrini
50.3 – New Real Betis manager, Manuel Pellegrini has won 50.3% of his managerial LaLiga games (167/332). Comeback. pic.twitter.com/YVhSCIWaX7
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) July 13, 2020
To this regard, Pellegrini was appointed last summer in order to give this side more order, especially given that one of the main problems with Betis over the last few seasons has been defensive instability.
The Chilean made his mark in the Spanish game after taking Villarreal to the Champions League Semi-Finals in 2006. Despite his sacking at Real Madrid (after finishing in second place whilst amassing 96 points), his tenure at Malaga served to strengthen his reputation for getting the best out of talented squads.
Indeed, he took the Andalusian side to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and they went toe to toe against Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund side. It is on the basis of his work at Villarreal and Malaga that he was appointed Real Betis boss.
An Inconsistent Start
Whilst they have not yet had the best of campaigns, their form has certainly picked up of late. After losing seven of their opening eleven encounters, Betis have now only been defeated twice in their last nine.
Pellegrini’s side currently find themselves in eighth position, although in terms of points they are just as close to 17th place Osasuna as they are to their cross-city rivals Sevilla in the fourth Champions League spot.
This demonstrates both the competitiveness of LaLiga but also the widening gap between the top five or six and the rest.
Defensive frailties and a Goalkeeping conundrum
Last season, Betis conceded 60 goals, which was the second worst record in the entire division.
During a summer when, like most Spanish clubs, Betis were operating on an extremely limited budget, they sought to address those defensive frailties by picking up Claudio Bravo on a free transfer.
However, neither he nor incumbent Joel Robles have nailed down the first goalkeeping position as of yet, although this is also due to injuries to Bravo.
The two shot stoppers have played in nine and eleven games respectively in LaLiga this term. And this chop and change has not helped Betis build those solid defensive foundations, which invariably start with the goalkeeper position.
They have conceded (along with Granada) the most amount of goals in the division (34 after 20 matches). However since their 4-3 defeat against Levante in late December, they have conceded only four goals in as many league matches, meaning they are showing some signs of improvement.
If they are going to challenge for a European position, they will need to maintain those improvements in this regard.
Where are the goals coming from?
A panda is loose.#ForeverGreen pic.twitter.com/0P1QWuZIDj
— Real Betis Balompié (@RealBetis_en) January 27, 2021
If conceding goals is a problem, then so is scoring them as shown by the fact that strikers Borja Iglesias and Loren Moron have managed just one each in the league this season. Antonio Sanabria also frequently led the line but only managed three goals himself and has just departed for Torino.
Nabil Fekir has also only netted once in LaLiga but fortunately for Betis, Sergio Canales has been outstanding, chipping in with seven goals from midfield despite injury problems. Cristian Tello has also contributed four to take Betis’ league tally to 26. Despite their striker problems, that’s the same number as 4th placed Sevilla, although their city rivals have only conceded 16.
Pellegrini will be hoping that Borja Iglesias’ double this week in the Copa del Rey, in a 3-1 victory over Real Sociedad, bodes well for both the striker and club. If he can rediscover the form that he demonstrated during his solitary season at Espanyol, and Betis can continue to improve defensively, they will suddenly be a much more dangerous force.
That the 39-year-old is still featuring at all in LaLiga is testimony to the man himself. He has featured in 14 LaLiga games this campaign, although only completing the 90 minutes once.
The veteran winger either tends to be substituted after the hour mark or is used as a late sub and has scored 3 league goals. Last weekend’s match reminded us all of his importance to this side.
With Betis 2-0 down against Real Sociedad, he came off the bench with 13 minutes left on the clock where he would provide an assist to Sergio Canales before getting a dramatic equaliser in stoppage time to salvage a draw.
Joaquín’s goal last night made history. He’s now the fourth oldest player to score in the Primera, the player with the longest time elapsed between his first and last goal in the Primera and the only player to have scored in four different decades of Spain’s top two divisions. pic.twitter.com/9IFhUWNk7O
— Alan Feehely (@azulfeehely) January 24, 2021
Can they achieve their aims this season under Pellegrini?
With their recent form, the quality in the squad and an experienced manager in Manuel Pellegrini, it would not be the biggest surprise if Real Betis were to clinch a place in the Europa League or perhaps more likely the newly formed Europa Conference League.
Due to the impact of Covid, and the strange season we are seeing, all teams have had dips in performances and there are plenty of fixtures left to be disputed.
An improvement in their defensive record, Borja Iglesias’ double this week, Joaquin’s cameo appearances and a squad that is in much better form than at the start of the season, bodes well for Los Verdiblancos.
During the next few months we will see if the Pellegrini project is working; if it does, perhaps Betis can follow in the footsteps of Malaga or Villarreal, who both reached Europe and excelled in it under the Chilean’s rule.
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