Betis vs Valencia preview – two teams reinvented

Over the years this is the type of fixture that would raise an eyebrow and a brief head nod for any Spanish football enthusiast. With two of Spain’s iconic clubs going head-to-head, it’s an enticing,  aesthetically pleasing fixture with potential to be a cracker.

In the last few seasons, it’s fair to say that neither team has had a vintage crop of players. In years gone by, Valencia were the perennial third placers with the odd league title, before Atlético Madrid turned up to rudely take that act. Meanwhile Betis have somewhat continued to be the unexpected Betis.

Since Pepe Mel was relinquished of his role first time around, Betis on the whole haven’t been worth watching. However, the times they are a changin’.

Betis are back. At least so far anyway. We have been re-envigorated since Quique Setién took over in the summer playing seven so far this season, winning four and scoring 14. Setién has also brought his style of football, which after a few teething problems, has started to look very effective. Good possession, dynamism, teamwork and effectiveness going forward. Some of our goals this season have been Barcelona tiki-taka-esque. The winner against Real Madrid was pure poetry in motion.

For their own part, Valencia have been rolling back the years. Consecutive 3-2 wins away at Real Soecidad, then at home to Athletic, preceded by a 5-0 hammering of Málaga.

Aside from the surface aesthetics, this is now a fixture to watch for the right reasons once again.

Betis-Valencia team news

Betis have the chance to make history this evening, by winning a fourth consecutive home game. The last time that was achieved was in the 2001/02 season. Before that was 1964/65 and before that was the title-winning team of 1934-35. In short, it’s not happened much. The new stadium has bred a new inner strength.

Tonny Sanabria looks like a new player. Scoring four in his last three games, he could be starting up front alongside the evergreen Joaquín and the tenacious Sergio León, although he could make way for Cristian Tello, who with his pace and skill, looks like a constant threat.

In midfield will be the impressively classy Andres Guardado, alongside Camarasa and the new hottest talent on the block – Fabían. What a player he could turn out to be. Dani Ceballos who? Javi García, who has been a key figure this season, misses out through a quad injury. The back five is looking stable and fairly solid.

What Setién has done for Betis, Marcelino has done for Valencia. Simone Zaza has been excellent this season as has Rodrigo alongside him. One of Valencia’s biggest changes is that they seemed to have sured up a leaky defence with Kondogbia patrolling just in front and Murillo and Garay forming a good partnership.

Kick off is 19:45 GMT tonight (20:45 Spain) live from el Benito Villamarin. Be sure to tune in for this one.

Viva el Betis!

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Fidel Castro and Real Betis

Yesterday we received the news of the death of the former dictator at the age of 90 announced with ‘profound sadness’ by his brother and current Cuban president Raúl Castro. But what has he got to do with Betis?

In 1997 after an interview with the then President of Andalucia Manuel Chaves, the communist leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, received the gift of a Real Betis shirt.

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Gus Poyet Sacked, Víctor Sánchez del Amo Hired

After weeks of turbulence, calls from fan groups and general unrest, Gus Poyet has finally been relieved of his duties at Real Betis.

The Uruguayan was brought in to head the start of new era Betis after Pepe Mel was sacked in January and a new administration board was elected. Poyet took over from the very popular caretaker manager Juan Merino and initially optimism was plentiful. However, the initial good vibrations that were flowing through the club fairly quickly turned to slight pessimism and then downright turmoil.

Despite making a few good signings on paper, it just never seemed to fit with Poyet in charge. His style of football was much different from what béticos were used and even the philosophy of the club in truth. Poyet is careful, considered and not really ready to jump into gung-ho mode, unlike say Pepe Mel would. The team always played on the side of caution and just didn’t show excitement or any belief in their abilities; this has to be because of Poyet’s management style.

He only had just over five months in charge at the club, which is no time at all, and no one can realistically expect an immediate change to the style and fortunes at the club; the problem is that there were absolutely no signs of anything positive, which may seem quite harsh, but it is true. The team played exactly the same way last season under an increasingly desperate Mel, but this season they seemed to play with even less spark and with even less ideas. It wasn’t good to watch.

This snapshot of results shows the last seven games. Two wins and five losses, is quite bad but it’s more so the manner of the defeats. Lacklustre screams out to me. Four goals scored and 12 conceded in that time. The best goalscorer with have, Rubén Castro, dropped to the bench and Cejudo captaining the side against Villarreal was the limit for some.

real betis poyet
Fans have been calling for this head with shouts of “Poyet Vete Ya” circulating for a few weeks now. Once you lose the fans there’s no looking back. I’ve held out in hope that we will start to show signs of improvement but none came. For me the scales were tipped last week against Villarreal in another woeful performance. They had tipped long before for many fans.

poyet vete ya real betis

I think Torrecilla and the board wanted didn’t want to act just yet but the fans power was too much. Some sections had said they would boycott the matches until Poyet was fired. I am now glad to see the back of Poyet. I like a few players will be very glad to see the back of him too, namely Dani Ceballos, Charly Musonda and Rubén Castro.

Poyet was a great footballer, full of flair and excitement, but his management style is the polar opposite. He had me bored stiff and resenting watching the team by 10pm on a Friday night, Betis’ ‘favourite’ kick off time.

Víctor Sánchez del Amo – Víctor the Saviour?

And now with have the start of another new era. No doubt this will be the biggest challenge of Víctor’s career – the poison chalice of Betis. We hope he can provide the antidote. The club have made a very considered appointment, after backing Poyet for a number of weeks, many directors were sick of him without announcing it publicly.

Torrecilla has held talks with Míchel, Luis García  and Juan Ignacio Martínez but has opted for Víctor, which has gone down pretty well with fans and journalists.

This is the same legendary Víctor who revelled at Deportivo between 1999 and 2006. Since he retired he’s been building up his coaching and management experience. He’s had spells as assistant at Getafe, Sevilla and Olympiacos before taking over as manager of Deportivo in 2015, his first managerial appointment. His record wasn’t brilliant and he coaxed Depor to a 15th place finish before being sacked. He went to then manage Olympiacos but only last two months there and failed to get the team through Champions League qualification. He now becomes the youngest manager in La Liga at the age of 40.

So far not so good, so what have we to look forward to with Víctor in charge?

victor and pepe mel

He’s started off by saying the right things, “The union between the team and the fans is essential.” Correct. He also wants “to make all béticos feel proud of what they see on the pitch”. Get the players to get there all and the fans will love you. Also manage to do this and the team will probably do quite well. Easier said than done I’m guessing.

In terms of tactics he is fairly flexible opting for 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 generally with the occasional 4-5-1. The difference will be the motivation he gives the players, this is undoubtedly the key. Betis are desperately short of leaders, I hope he can provide the impetus, be the example and get the players believing again.

He has a week to work with the players before the next game against Las Palmas on Friday.

Buena suerte caballero y mucho Betis!

5 goal thriller, last minute winner, red card, voodoo banished – Eso es mi Betis!

I’m not one to blow my own trumpet but my parting words on my Valencia-Betis preview last weekend were…

“I don’t think there is a much better time to take on Valencia who are looking quite weak at the time. It’s a big game on Sunday for Betis (aren’t they all) and Poyet says the players know the importance of the game. I’ve got a feeling that we may pull a very good result out of the bag and perhaps Poyet can get his first win as manager and Betis can break that 30 year La Mestalla losing streak.”

And win we did!

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Podcast – Ben Hardman discusses Real Betis with The Spanish Football Show

I was asked to record a podcast a couple of weeks back for an episode on The Spanish Football Show. It wasn’t anything I had ever done before, but thought I’d give it a go…and below is the result.

The recording is about 30 mins along and I discuss all things Real Betis – from Lopera, the financial crisis, the current presidency, the performance this season back in La Liga, Guy Poyet and future aspirations for the club.  Once I got into it, it was an enjoyable experience!

If your ears are ready, you can listen here or click below.

sfp

‘Mathematically safe’ as good as it gets this season

Being deemed as ‘mathematically safe’ is about as glamorous as it has been or is going to get this season. The truth is, it hasn’t been one to savour but we are safe and we will be playing La Liga football next year. Despite a bit of money being spent last summer and a couple of big name signings, the possibility of relegation was real (as it usually always is with Betis) so it is mission accomplished from that perspective.

However, as fans we have been left wanting more. This weekend Betis ground out a gritty 1-1 draw against Eibar, which isn’t a bad result considering Eibar’s good form at the Ipurua. For the majority of the season that has been it: ok, alright, not bad, half decent. When it hasn’t been mediocre it has been worse than that. Uninspiring and quite frankly dull.

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It’s Derby Time!

Betis head into one of the biggest fixtures in their calendar in good form. Two wins and a draw out of three. Sevilla head into el derbi not so good form, the opposite in fact: two losses and a draw. As we know from past experience form really doesn’t count for anything. Nada.

The derby is its own beast. It’s passion-filled, furious and frantic. In jornada 16 this season the first encounter finished 0-0 before Sevilla went on to beat us comfortably in the copa del rey. Tomorrow’s battle will take place in Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán home with those ‘locos de la cabeza’ in green and white occupying a small wedge of the stadium.

The atmosphere will be electric as always with nothing but whole hearted pride and prestige on the table. Including this game, there are four games left in this seasons edition of la liga, but both teams have pretty much accomplished their goals. Betis are safe from the drop and Sevilla are sitting in 7th position, six points clear of Valencia in 8th.

Last time out Betis played fairly well against Las Palmas, beating them 1-0 thanks to a late goal from the unlikely hero of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. The game should have been finished off earlier but we couldn’t quite find the break through even though Las Palmas were down to 10 men for most of the game. Van Wolfswinkel won’t have done enough to stake a claim in the starting line-up, but Ceballos will almost definitely be there after having one of his most impressive performances of the season. Ceballos set up Van Wolfswinkel for his goal and created a whole load of other chances, something which he just hasn’t done this season. Hopefully this will give him the self-confidence to dictate play tomorrow afternoon.

In terms of squads, Betis bring in two new faces from last weekend: Xavi Torres and Montoya. Not sure why Xavi Torres is in and Jorge Molina is out, but there you go. Sevilla are likely to have top goalscorer Kevin Gameiro back in action after being missing recently. The Frenchman has got 15 goals this season and he’s a key figure for the eternal rivals but Betis have their own formidable frontman with 17 goals this season: Rubén Castro, of course. He’s the joint top Spanish goalscorer alongside Aritz Aduriz and Borja Bastón.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 18.36.30The flames have been well and truly stoked pre-game with Sevilla defender Adil Rami having a few choice words to say on Instagram; saying the game is a pre-season game and that Betis’ future lies in the segunda. Stupid man. He quickly back-tracked on saying “I have maximum respect for Real Betis.” Stop talking out of your arse with an apology you don’t mean. Don’t mind a bit of banter but let’s hope that he well and truly lives to regret his outburst by the end of tomorrow’s game.

Game kicks off at 3pm UK time and 4pm in Spain.

Vamos Betis!

It’s a six-pointer this weekend

“We know the importance of the game this Saturday, but we are calm, we have to win.”

Rubén Castro knows the importance this weekend’s game against Levante, I think we all do. He actually said “we have to win sí o sí.” In that lovely Spanish phrases which literally means ‘yes or yes’, Betis have no option but to get all three points otherwise they will find themselves firmly in a relegation dog fight again.

A few weeks ago after a six game unbeaten run we all thought another year in La Liga was all but confirmed, now we’ve suffered three defeats on the bounce after last Saturday’s 5-1 hammering away to Atlético Madrid. A draw would have probably been the most we could have asked for in the Vicente Calderon considering that Atlético have the best defence in Europe and Betis have a highly ineffective attack, but this was a battering with the team falling apart after going 1-0 down.

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Time to shine in Gran Canaria

Betis face a potential banana skin trip to Gran Canaria this Saturday to take Las Palmas. Although los amarillos are in rock-bottom position, a win will take them out of the relegation zone as the two teams immediately above Las Palmas, Levante and Granada, pair off against each other.

A win for Betis could take them as high as 7th place, momentarily at least, as all the other sides they could leapfrog play tomorrow (apart from Sevilla who take on Sporting today).

Speaking of the eternal rival, Betis do have half an eye on them, as in exactly a week’s time we will be ready to watch the first derbi sevillano of the season. There has been a little bit of talk this week of resting certain players on the cusp of returning from injury – namely Adán and N’Diaye – in order for them to be fresh for the derby. I do understand this discussion but it also worries my slightly as we really should be fully concentrating on Las Palmas. In terms of percentages, a win against Las Palmas is more likely than against Sevilla, so in my opinion we should be doing all we can to get three points in Gran Canaria and go back to Heliopolis in full confidence ready to take on Sevilla.

It seems that Pepe Mel has taken a half and half approach to this one. He’s included Adán in the squad but not N’Diaye.

History favours Betis

El Estadio de Gran Canaria holds many a good memory for Real Betis. Last time out we won 0-3 as we galloped our way to promotion. In fact, Las Palmas have not won at home to Betis in La Liga since 1985.

One of our key players happens to hail from the very island itself. Goalscoring machine, Rubén Castro, was born, bred and started his career in Las Palmas playing 112 games for the first team before being signed by Deportivo La Coruña. He then journeyed around for six years before joining Betis…and the rest is history.

His record against his old team is fantastic. In 10 games since leaving he’s scored seven goals against them, which hasn’t exactly made him popular on his home turf and it’s likely that he won’t receive the best welcome this evening. Quique Setién, manager of Las Palmas, knows what Rubén brings commenting that he is “uncontrollable” and “very difficult to stop”. Let’s hope he bags another goal to shut the boo boys up.

This game is not going to be easy with Las Palmas not having a terrible home record (it’s certainly better than Betis’), that’s why I’m hoping Pepe Mel and his players do not underestimate their opponents and become slack, which we have seen a few times before.

Squad news is as follows: Adán, Dani Giménez, Ángel de la Calzada, Molinero, Piccini, Pezzella, Westermann, Jordi Figueras, Varela, Vargas, Petros, Xavi Torres, Fabián, Van der Vaart, Portillo, Joaquín, Cejudo, Vadillo, Van Wolfswinkel, Jorge Molina y Rubén Castro.

Dani Ceballos and Bruno are suspended.

Last time out against Celta, Betis were a vast improvement in comparison to their other home games. I think Mel should stick to a very similar starting line-up, to give a bit of consistency and a chance for the players to develop their understanding further; the squad is much changed and I’m hoping now that we can see the players begin to gel.
My starting line up: Dani Giménez; Piccini, Westermann, Pezzella, Varela; Petros, Xavi Torres, Van der Vaart, Joaquín, Vadillo; Rubén Castro.
The game kicks off at 21:05 GMT (22:05 Spain) on Saturday 12th December.

Viva el Betis!

Report: Sporting 1-2 Betis – Joaquín & R.Castro do the business!

Betis had 3 players to thank as they took all 3 points back to Andalucía: Antonio Adán, Joaquín and Rubén Castro.

The first half was a huge disappointment for Betis. A lack of urgency, ideas and ability. Sporting were completely the better team and if it wasn’t for Antonio Adán, it could have easily been 3-0 to the hosts.

Sporting went one-nil up through Castro after good wing play by on-loan dangerman Halilovic. Someone in green really should have put a foot in, but the Barcelona loanee wriggled from the wing and slid it into Castro’s feet. Castro made a movement towards the ball then turned back towards goal, completely selling out Bruno and Westermann before applying a good finish.

It needed an inspiring half time team talk from Pepe Mel to spur his Betis side into action.

Just a minute after the restart and Betis were level. Cejudo bounced on an error in the Sporting half and delivered a nice lofted cross to Rubén Castro who nodded it across into the path of Joaquín to head in across the goal into the opposite corner for his first Betis goal since resigning.

Pure poetry in motion.

Betis took the lead not long after. It started with a Sporting corner from which Adán made a save. He then whacked the ball upfield to Rubén who cleverly nudged the centre half in the back to leave him in a sprint for the ball with the other defender.

Castro got there first and from just outside the area absolutely thundered the ball which pinged off the bar and into the back of the net – Tony Yeboah style.

Since his signing in 2010, Rubén Castro has scored 34% of Betis league goals – 105 of 303 (stat via @pedritonumeros).

Antonio Adán continued his wonderful performance producing a number of vital saves in the second half.

Ceballos and Joaquín made way for Petros and Molina as Pepe Mel looked to close out the game. It really should have finished 3-1 when Molina somehow missed an open goal.

Whatever Pepe Mel said at half time worked and he will be ecstatic to take all the points back to el Villamarín.

Viva el Betis!