On the rise?

There is a bit of an underlying rumbling passing through el Benito Villamarín at the minute and for once it’s firmly towards the positive end of the spectrum. Since that awful December and January run, February and March are proving to be almost diametrically opposite.

After 12 consecutive games without a win Betis are now:

  • 6 games unbeaten (3 wins and 3 draws)
  • Scoring goals (!) – that’s 10 goals in the last 5 games compared to 16 goals in 23 games!
  • Scored 3 goals in a single la liga match which they haven’t done for almost two years
  • Playing decent football which the fans are responding to
  • 10 goals in 5 games – did I mention that?

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Betis 1 – 3 Athletic Bilbao: clueless Betis outclassed

It never rains, it only pours in Betis-land. The club suffered their third home defeat in a row in torrential conditions as the whole squad were found wanting save for a few; namely Adán, possibly N’Diaye and maybe Digard.

Losing 3-1 actually makes it sound closer than it was. Betis played without conviction, without confidence and without knowledge. Looking for any identity was like looking for a particular clown fish in the Pacific Ocean – it just wasn’t there. To think Betis started the game above Athletic is fairly absurd judging by the vast differential gulf in quality, effort and classiness.

On his return to el Benito Villamarín, that little midfield magician, Beñat Exteberria, absolutely ran the show. Everything went through him. It was a midfield masterclass in passing, movement, decisiveness, creativty, tracking – he had it all. He almost single-handedly made it seem like Betis just didn’t have a midfield.

In the centre they had N’Diaye and Ceballos. N’Diaye had a decent game, tried hard, made a few last ditch tackles when the defence went missing and tried to stamp a notion of authority. Ceballos, however, was non-existent. I know he is 19, but if he is to merit a starting place, which he certainly can do, he needs to learn fast.

I feel he could actually be a very similar to player to Beñat. He’s got the same tenacity, good ball skills and an eye for an incisive pass, but he was completely and utterly outclassed last night. What he should do is watch a video of this game and pick up everything Beñat did. Then watch it again.

As for the Betis defence, it was full on woeful. Centre-backs Pezzella and Bruno were literally all over the show. At times I had no idea where they’d wondered off to or why. Molinero and Piccini were just as bad.

That being said, Athletic Bilbao were very good. Young forward Iñaki Williams scored two good goals. The first came early on as Betis, for the umpteenth time this season went 1-0 down early on. Fighting an up hill battle straight away. Adán made a few good saves and Athletic wasted a few chances. To go 2-0 down at half time was lucky. At time I genuinely thought Athletic had about 15 players and Betis about 7.

Pepe Mel declared the first half was, “very poor”. It wasn’t that good. The second half wasn’t much better either. Didier Digard came off the bench and actually gave Betis a bit of shape. He also put himself about and gave Betis a bit of much needed character!

Los verdiblancos got a fairly lucky handball penalty and Rubén Castro tucked it away. They then look half-dangerous for about 10 minutes and could have possible equalised after good play from Ricky Van Wolkswinkel, who made his first start. Athletic weathered the storm then killed the game off when Raúl Garcia pinged one in from 25 yards.

At the end of the game, Mel said Athletic were a good team and talked about them beating Barcelona etc. Yes they did, but just say, “we were shambolically shit”? This was an Athletic team who although in good form, had lost 4 out of 5 games at the start of the season.

Ok rant over.

Having said all that I don’t think we should start panicking just yet.

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The table doesn’t look too bad. However, the performance has to get better. If we start to continue to slide down the table then I’ll start to worry.

For now I’m still behind Pepe Mel, although I don’t think the majority of Béticos are. Many are citing his lack of leadership and capacity to manage the situation as problems that are just too big. To me it either looks like the players aren’t putting in as much effort as they should be, they’re being told the wrong thing to do, or that they aren’t being trained correctly, e.g. zonal marking?!?! The amount of times Athletic had about 4 players queuing up from a cross to pop it in the net – zonal marking doesn’t work!!

Something needs to be done fast. That’s it for now. Up next is Málaga away on Saturday. Málaga are floundering just above the relegation zone, so a result there is pretty vital.

Manquepierda!

Can Betis break free of their chains? Athletic next up tonight

Sitting in 10th place in La Liga, equal points with Sevilla who’ve played a game more and two places above Athletic Bilbao, any one would think Betis have made a good start to the season. More or less everyone does think Betis have made a solid start being back in La Liga; apart from quite a few disgruntled Béticos.

Seems strange writing that. I’ve been quite happy with the start they’ve made. There are a lot of new faces and it clearly does take time to gel. The problem many fans have is the style Pepe Mel has adopted. It’s neither attacking nor defensive and all just a bit stale and blah. The fans want the Betis style: swarming forward, creating chances, fighting the whole way.

A very difficult call for Mel who has shown in the past that the Betis style is his natural style. However, Betis are a club on the move. New president, new board, new SD, new players. The club wants stability. They want to stay in La Liga and creep there way up to the European places. Playing gung-ho football is not the best way to get there some might say. It’s possible a little birdy has had a word in Pepe Mel’s year.

I asked a question to The Spanish Football Podcast hosted by Sid Lowe and Phil Kitromilides on whether they think Mel will go. They back up my view that they would be shocked if he was to be sacked again so soon and very much thought he should stay on. You can catch up with the pod -here https://soundcloud.com/thespanishfootballpodcast – question is near the end of the most recent post.

A lot of clubs are adopting this approach these days. It’s all about the finances. Achieving the highest place in the table, not for pride, but for the money of course.

Saying that I’ve become aware via Twitter of a new movement at the club. Por Nuestro Betis is an association of fans vying to defend the club’s best interests and control it in the way the think it should be. I’m going to try and right an article about it in the near future, but for know if you’re interested in reading more here’s a piece on the Federación de Accionistas y Socios del Fútbol Español website – Asociación de Béticos.

Team News

I got slightly distracted there, but onto the team news for tonight’s 19:30 GMT (20:30, Spain) encounter with Athletic Bilbao.

Big news is that Rafael Van der Vaart could be in the starting line-up. Having not played since the end of September, he’s now overcome his injuries, lost a bit of timber and is in the reckoning. All week in training, he’s been playing in what looks like the starting eleven. It would certainly give Betis something else. I’d like to see the Dutchman pair up alongside N’Diaye in the centre with Dani Ceballos in front.

Ceballos hasn’t started a game yet this season at home, he has to start this one!

If these three play with Joaquín and Portillo on the wings and Rubén Castro up top, Béticos wouldn’t be able to complain that Mel is playing defensive. Such a line-up may also put the cat amongst the pigeons for Ernesto Valverde, Athletic manager, who may be expecting a not so attacking approach.

Westermann has been declared injured, so we are likely to see the return of Germán Pezzella. The Argentinian has made a shaky start to his Betis career, but Mel rates him very highly. With his nerves settled he could become a very good player. He’s likely to pair up with Bruno at the centre of defence.

For Athletic, Susaeta, Williams and Laporte have beaten off injury problems to be included in the squad. They are missing a few key players however, such as Iker Muniain, Mikel Rico, Ander Iturraspe and Kike Sola.

castro y benatIn the list though is ex-Betis favourite, Beñat. Some may argue they’ve never filled the void since he left a few seasons back – I think Dani Ceballos is the man to step up but he needs to be given a proper chance, starting today!

Oh and look out for the new sponsor on front of the famous verdiblanco shirts. It will show UED Sports, our new Chinese sponsor.

Vamos Betis!!

Beñat returns home

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Beñat and Cañas, both have left Betis this summer (photo from Al final de la Palmera)

The moment has finally arrived; Betis are Beñat-less. The little, bearded, Basque string-puller has returned to his spiritual home, Athletic Bilbao – the club who released him 4 years ago, deeming him not good enough. It has been on the cards for quite some time so it has come as no surprise to anyone who follows Spanish football.

Betis maybe could have recouped around €20 million last summer for Beñat, but have finally settled for something in the region of €8-10 million. Good business for Athletic? Yes, very much so. He is still only 26 and is on the fringes on an exceptional national team. However, I also think it is fairly good business from Betis. If we wouldn’t have kept hold of him for one more season then who is to say we would have made it into the Europa League?

It is true that season 2012-2013 was not as effectual as the season before, although he still scored 4 goals and assisted with 8, but Beñat has played his part majorly and now he has moved on to pastures new.

Beñat has a lot to be thankful to Betis for, but so do Betis to him. He made his debut for los verdiblancos at the start of the 2010/2011 season, helping them to regain promotion to the pinacle league of Spanish football. He has gained a reputation as the engine room of the team, with the ability to dictate player and with the visionary capabilities to split defences in two with a wave of his wand-like right boot. A proper footballer, which was recognised immediately by Pepe Mel, who transformed him into a integral player.

There have been lots of great moments. For me the greatest was Beñat’s dismantling of Sevilla in their backyard. Sevilla took the lead after six minutes through Alvaro Negredo. Beñat dragged Betis back into the contest in the 43rd minute thanks to a brilliantly struck freekick crashing in off the post. Up stepped Beñat again in the 93rd minute to nonchalantly slide a freekick under the wall and again crash in off the post. Here’s my match report at the time for Inside Spanish Football.

However, it does seems about the right time for Beñat to leave, especially after his inseparable amigo, Cañas, made tracks to Swansea a couple of weeks ago. Béticos will be forever grateful to Beñat and I’m sure he will get a terrific reception upon return to el estadio Benito Villamarín.