Preview: Sporting Gijón vs Betis (Sunday, 11am)

Sunday’s game for Betis is the time for a reaction.

In the week I’ve been away, Betis have had a mixed to poor bag of results. It started off with a 0-0 draw away to Valencia on Saturday, which has to go down as a good result. On Thursday they had a good chance to collect three points against Deportivo La Coruña, who had lost the previous week to Betis’ next opponents, Sporting.

The game didn’t go according to plan and Betis lost 2-1. Depor’s first goal was a worldy strike from Fede Cartabia with the ball cannoning in off the underside of the bar. Betis levelled through Petros only to concede again a couple of minutes later to a poor goal from a verdiblanco point of view. Petros gave it away on the half way line, Sporting sprung a break and clinically finished.

The Opponents

Sporting are familiar opponents to Betis having played against them last year in the segunda division. They finished in second place, two points behind Pepe Mel’s boys, and were automatically promoted after a 3-0 win at Betis on the last day of the season. Both sides have made a steady start to their new la liga lives and each have five points from five games – 1 win, 2 draws and 2 losses.

Betis should travel to Asturias with confidence though having won there 2-1 last season. Since then, the squad of Betis has been heavily strengthened whereas Sporting’s has remained largely the same due to their financial problems. Sporting, managed by Abelardo Fernández, have played twice this season at their El Molinón ground and have failed to score in either.

Los rojiblancos do have a couple of decent players in midfield: one is Jony, who Betis were very interested in during the summer, and the other is Halilovic, who is on loan from Barcelona.

Betis team news – N’Diaye returns

Good news for Pepe Mel is that man-mountain Alfred N’Diaye will return in the centre of midfield. He was missed on Thursday against Deportivo, where Van der Vaart, Xavi Torres and Petros combined probably didn’t make up for the ground N’Diaye usually covers.

Van der Vaart is out of the game having become injured against Deportivo. He made his Villamarín debut on Thursday, but it was definitely not one to remember. I didn’t watch the game, but many were faulting his attitude and were generally unimpressed with the Dutchman. Room for improvement then. Also out is left back Manuel Vargas with a knee injury. Defenders Molinero and Varela return to the squad.

Here’s the full 19 man squad: Adán, Dani; Bruno, Jordi, Westermann, Piccini, Molinero, Varela; N’Diaye, Xavi Torres, Petros, Ceballos, Cejudo, Joaquín, Portillo; Rennella, Van Wolfswinkel, Molina & Rubén Castro.

Goals needed

The problem Betis are suffering from is a distinct lack of goals. They’ve managed just 3 from 5 this season (which is at least a bit more positive than Málaga’s 0 in 5). Again there is still a reliance on Rubén Castro who really does need a bit of help from the others.

Although he has been a great servant, I’m not sure if Jorge Molina can still cut the mustard at this level. Could it be time to give Ricky Van Wolfswinkel a start? Maybe. In midfield, N’Diaye will come in and I hope he is paired with Dani Ceballos, who is one of few who gives Betis a bit of impetus. He came off the bench to provide Petros with an assist on Thursday.

Los verdiblancos will be certainly looking for 3 golden points on Sunday. A draw would be a mediocre result and a loss could set the tone for the whole season to come. Important game then.

Betis are set to fly to Gijón this afternoon and are set to arrive for 7pm where they will stay in a hotel before the early morning kick-off – 11am in the UK, 12 noon in Spain.
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Betis 1 – 1 Villarreal: Point on the board, good start, room for improvement

The match began on Sunday and by the time Rubén Castro scored the equaliser as the match came to a close, it was Monday! That’s Spain’s crazy match timings for you – you can thank the LFP.

Betis’ first taste of La Liga action ended in a 1-1 draw against a well-oiled Villarreal team. It wasn’t the perfect start, but it will do. More importantly, Betis did not look out of place at all against the team who finished 6th last season. In fact, Betis dominated the game in terms of possession, yet they never truly threatened to score until Dani Ceballos came on and created a bit of impetus.

The players came out to a vociferous noise, with the crowd clearly excited to be back where they belong. Pepe Mel’s men started off with lots of energy and enthusiasm, however, the energy they emitted seemed to be more of a nervous kind and at times you could see their eagerness to create an impression resulting in simple mistakes.

It would have done us well to have a nice, calm influencing figure in midfield to dictate play and simmer things down a little. One of two players could have done this: one of them was sitting on the bench, Señor Ceballos, and the other was injured, Rafa Van der Vaart. It will be a good sight to see the Dutchman pulling the strings in centre-mid.

Overall, it was a good performance from Betis. They could have won it near the end when they were piling the pressure on, but I think a draw was a fair result. Villarreal looked dangerous on the break, swinging up the field like a set of launched bananas.

Roberto Soldado, a familiar name to all, opened the scoring in the 31st minute. Betis cleared a corner, to then see the ball hoofed in the area. As the green and white defence moved out, they forget about what might happen if an onside Villarreal player controlled it. Soldado plucked the ball down and had around 14 minutes worth of space to slot the ball past Adán.

The main threat Betis posed seemed to be down the right hand side, with right back Cristiano Piccini bombing up and down. He wasn’t perfect and can be highly infuriating at times with his final ball, but he was definitely trying and with a fair degree of success, causing plenty of trouble for Villarreal left back, Jaume Costa. Piccini was given the Most Valuable Player award come the end of the match.

It was one of Piccini’s speculative shots that led to the goal. He’d had a few where you think, ‘why are you shooting from there?!?’, but on this occasion, it worked. As he lined up a 35 yard volley in the 85th minute, I thought ‘here we go’. However, it was an absolute bullet which was parried by goalkeeper Areola, who made a double save before seasoned goal-poacher, Rubén Castro, forced it in. Queue madness in the stands. Betis pushed for a winner, but it eventually played out in a draw.

Making his debut as centre-back was Germán Pezzella, who fair to say, did not look too solid. I think we need to be a little patient and let him bed in as he seemed shaky and a little nervous. On a few occasions he miscued a pass, got caught out of position or mis-controlled the ball. Against a more clinical opposition, it may have cost us.

Betis did look more dangerous with Dani Ceballos on the field, but he continues to divide opinion with his unwillingness to sign a contract. He obviously has a very bright future ahead of him, but I don’t think he is being advised very well. He is 19 and it would do him well to get a La Liga season under his belt before he looks at a more attractive more. The crowd showed restraint but they won’t for long and will not have little patience for someone who, as they will see it, doesn’t want to play for los verdiblancos.

Up next for Betis is the not so easy feat of facing Real Madrid away, who were held to a draw by fellow La Liga new boys, Sporting Gijón, who finished below Betis last season. They could give Betis a bit of faith, but equally, it will make Madrid want to exact revenge.

It looks like Digard will be available for selection, but Ceballos may be staying in Seville for the journey.

Joaquín News

In his latest Instragram post he has said, “My decision is made, I only want to return to home”. The prodigal son is on his way back!

Vargas joins the ‘Project’ as pre-season rolls on

vargas

Juan Manuel Vargas (image from eldesmarque.com)

Juan Manuel Vargas rolled into Santa Justa train station on Monday evening to become Betis’ 8th summer signing.

The 31 year old Peru international is set to sign, subject to completing a medical tomorrow, for two years with an optional third year. He was a free agent after his contract at Fiorentina ran out. It seems obvious that former Fiorentina sporting director, Eduardo Macià, was key in getting the player onto the Betis books.

Vargas can play anywhere down the left hand side, but has developed more as an left sided attacking midfielder renowned for a superb cross. He’s nickname is ‘El Loco’ – the mad one.

Now, Betis really do need to offload some first team players.

Pre-Season Continues

Since returning from Germany, the level of performance on the field has been raised. Pepe Mel says the team ‘va a mejorando’ – it’s getting better, but there is still a lot of improvement to be made.

On Friday los verdiblancos took on Recreativo de Huelva and ran out 2-1 winners. Betis were 1-0 down at half time after conceding a poor goal from a simple free kick from the right hand side. The second half performance improved and Betis were dominant. Two goals from Jorge Molina ensured Betis went home winners, and he could have had a hat-trick but skied a penalty in the closing stages.

On Sunday evening, Pepe Mel and his men took on La Liga outfit Espanyol in Catalonia. They faced up to a couple of familiar faces in the shape of Jose Cañas and the silver fox, Salva Sevilla. It was a decent showing with Dani Ceballos showing a lot of people what he is about with some terrific moments of skill and incision.

Rubén Castro gave Betis the lead before Felipe Caicedo evened things up. As the game was for Trofeo Ciudad de Barcelona, a draw was no good, so the game went straight to penalties. It was perfect scoring for both sides with nine penalties scored out of nine before Ceballos stepped up for Betis.

In a example of ‘he’s still got a lot to learn’, Ceballos tried to be too clever and chip the goal into the goal. However, he was made to look a bit stupid as the goalkeeper literally stood there and caught the goal in front of his face. That is not to taint what was a good performance from the youngster, showing his capability of performing on a higher level.

Next up for Betis in what will be their final friendly, is Granada on 14th August before the season kicks off properly against Villarreal.

Passion of 40,000 needs to be matched but Betis won’t spend anymore

Not everything is going swimmingly at el Benito Villamarín during the pre-season.

The astounding finish to last season by the team to earn promotion back to La Liga seems to be a distant memory now. The buzz around the club, particularly on-field, seems to have slipped away slightly.

40,000 signed up! Queues outside the stadium (image from sevilla.abc.es - Raúl Doblado)

40,000 signed up! Queues outside the stadium (image from sevilla.abc.es – Raúl Doblado)

Pre-season is a time to experiment with players and formations, a time to get a few minutes under the belt and increase fitness in preparation to the all-important first game. Results don’t matter and nobody gets any points under the jornada 1. All that is a given, but as a fan you are still craving for a little glimmer, a little something to whet your appetite.

The fantastic form since Christmas has been dashed away, with a rather unimpressive one win in six. Betis’ poor performances against the likes of San Roque de Lepe, Vitoria Setúbal and Darmstadt 98, thankfully, have not put the fans off.

Off-field things have been looking extremely rosy. An unbelievable 40,000 fans have purchased a season-ticket for the new season. El Benito Villamarín is a 52,000 seater stadium, which means at least 77% will be sold out each home game.

Betis have signed a fantastic kit deal with Adidas, upgrading from Macron and also have the benefit of more incoming money from the TV rights of being in La Liga.

Despite all this, the club still insists it has ‘no dinero‘. This no money stance has meant the signing of lesser known players, such as Petros and Pezzella. These players could turn out to be amazing signings and everybody might be frothing at the mouth over the vision and insight of the scouting system.

The club have no doubt done some very good business; Van der Vaart on a free is brilliant. Yet, it is obvious the club need two, three, possible even four more players to make them fighting fit for La Liga. However, the club isn’t willing to spend any more money, only free or loan players.

Little and Large: Molina y Rubén Castro

Reliance on Rubén can’t last forever

The lack of goals and velocity is a bit scary. Rubén Castro is an absolutely superb player, but if he doesn’t pop it in the back of the net, who will? I have always highlighted the uneasy reliance on Castro as something that Betis need to address. Another striker is key. There is no chance of Osvaldo joining now, hopefully Maciá has someone else in line.

Betis have released three players – Kadir, Lolo Reyes and Alvaro Vadillo.

vadillo

Vadillo: Huge talent lost (image from marca.com)

Vadillo is a sad loss. Still at the age of 20, it seems like he has been around for a good while. Vadillo was, and still is, a huge, huge talent and it is a shame to see him go. Since 2011 he has played 46 intermittent games for Betis, mainly due to two cruciate knee ligament injuries.

This terrible luck has undoubtedly stunted his potential, meaning when he has been in the team he has been unable to truly impress like he did when he first appeared in the team becoming the second ever youngest player to appear in La Liga.

The start of the proper campaign is three weeks around the corner, enough time to sort out these teething problems, but not enough time to flounder about. The team and management need to start now.

Van der Vaart deal to Betis to be finalised soon

Van der Vaart

Van der Vaart

The rumour has been floating around for a little while, but it looks like it is now finally materialising: Rafael Van der Vaart will officially be a Betis player within days.

Club chairman, Ollero, announced today that talks were at a ‘advanced stage’.

The Dutchman will sign from German side Hamburg on a three-year deal, which is a deal well negotiated for the 32 year old. The former Real Madrid and Tottenham midfielder has made 22 starts for Hamburg this season, scoring four times.

If the signing is confirmed, it could be the start of something great for Betis. It is a statement signing of intent for los verdiblancos, telling La Liga that Betis are here to stay. Although the signing will stretch Betis’ budget, it is a brilliant signing as it is likely to attract a higher calibre of players to the club.

Van der Vaart wants to move back to Andalucía to be close to his family when his contract runs out at Hamburg at the end of June. His parents still live in beautiful town of Chiclana de la Frontera in the province of Cadíz, around an hours drive from Seville.

Betis back in La Liga!

Estamos en primera (Picture from Francisco Molinero's twitter account)

Estamos en primera (Picture from Francisco Molinero’s twitter account)

Real Betis are officially a La Liga team. 393 days after they were relegated; they are back!

A satisfying 3-0 victory over Alcorcón on Sunday confirmed just this. Yesterday morning, I wrote on BlogBetis that if one of three scenarios occur, then promotion will be certified. The first two didn’t happen as Girona beat Llagostera and Sporting did the same to Tenerife. So Betis’ destiny was in their own hands, which I think was the scenario everybody was hoping for. Even if they didn’t win they would have had two more attempts.

Almost 50,000 cram into el Benito Villamarín

Almost 50,000 cram into el Benito Villamarín

However, Pepe Mel and his merry men wanted to do this in style, in el Benito Villamarín and in front of 48,462 loyal almas – souls – of Betis.  That is an incredible number for a second division Spanish football match against a team a lot people haven’t even heard of. More than Manchester City. More than Liverpool. More than Chelsea.

Last week I said that this upcoming week could be season-defining for Betis, with three games inside a week. It has been season-defining and it has highlighted how Pepe Mel has re-invigorated, re-energised and re-motivated this side. Los verdiblancos have won all three games: scoring 12 goals in the process and conceding three. They are back to their entertaining, exciting selves, something which has been entirely lost for over a year.

It was fitting that once again Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina helped Betis to strut over the line with aplomb. Castro bagged two more goals on Sunday to take his total to 32 goals for the season! His first goal was yet another sublime finish, sprinting through before flicking the ball over the goalkeepers head with consummate ease. His second a penalty. Molina rounded things off with a tap in, his 19th of the campaign. Queue mass celebrations in the stadium.

'Mucha emoción'

‘Mucha emoción’

As the final whistle went, there were hugs galore on the bench and hysteria in the stands. As the players and staff did the rounds on the pitch, Pepe Mel looked evidently emotional. What a moment this must have been for him; the perfect return.

The huge banner below is what Betisweb kept under raps until kick off. I mentioned in my last post that they had something secretive up their sleeve and this was it. A homage to one of the best front line combinations in Spanish football – Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina.

Betisweb homage to RC24 and Molina (from Marca.com)

Betisweb homage to RC24 and Molina (from Marca.com)

I don’t think anyone, bar a few extremely optimistic (or extremely naïve) people, would have envisioned nor predicted this ending at the start of the season.

‘I am in my home, where I want to be’ – Pepe Mel

Towards the end of Novemeber, Betis had won 6, drawn 3 and lost 5. Under the uninspiring Julio Velázquez, the outlook was pretty dismal. A few changes in the boardroom and a couple of inspired decisions later and Pepe Mel had returned to his rightful home. In his 21 league games, Betis have lost just once! Under Pepe Mel, Molina has scored 17 of his 19 goals. Under Pepe Mel came a renewed sense of worth and appetite, which has ultimately led to this fantastic achievement. The revival did all start under the caretaker manager, Juan Merino, before Mel took charge. Merino’s role in all of this is integral.

‘It has been the most complicated season of my career’ – Jorge Molina

And that is saying something. Things are just never easy or straightforward at Betis, as proved with this season’s shenanigans. This is the 12th time Betis have been promoted to La Liga – the most in the history of Spanish football. So, to say there are ups and downs would be an understatement.

The season isn’t over yet and there are two more games to play. The next challenge for Pepe Mel and co. is to become champions of the league.

Celebrating in the changing room

Celebrating in the changing room

http://videosdelbetis.com/videos/video-la-grada-verdiblanca-celebra-el-ascenso-verdiblanco/

The video above is from the fantastic videosdelbetis.com who produce some great stuff.

A Return to La Liga Promised Land?

Betis will be a La Liga team by the end of the day, if one of three scenarios occur:

  • If Girona lose to Llagostera
  • If Sporting Gijón don’t win against Tenerife
  • If Betis win against Alcorcón

Both Girona and Sporting play earlier this afternoon, so by the time Betis grace el Villamarín later on, and results have gone their way, they could already be in their natural place. If not then it is Betis’ own hands where they are likely to be playing in front of 50,000 La Liga hungry Béticos.

Players celebrate in El Sardinero after Thursday's win

Players celebrate in El Sardinero after Thursday’s win

On Thursday evening, Betis helped their ascension cause by placing a foot in La Primera with a 4-2 away win at Racing Santander. Two more goals from the unstoppable Rubén Castro, another from Jorge Molina and one from Bruno ensured that Pepe Mel’s men would return from northern Spain with all three vital points.

Two more goals from The Legend

Betisweb banner: Two more goals from The Legend

Racing took the lead early on, but Betis were quickly back on track with a solid Bruno header from a corner. Betis were 2-1 up by half time after a sublime goal from Rubén Castro. He cleverly combined with Kadir to then curl the ball into the top corner, ricocheting in off the post. The third came from Castro again as he lobbed the keeper from the edge of the area. The victory was assured by Jorge Molina smashed the goal in the top corner from outside the area with a suspected toe-bunge, whatever way he connected it was certainly a golazo. David Concha grabbed one back for Racing, but the game ended 4-2.

Pepe Mel made a few rotational changes on Thursday to keep his starting line-up fresh. He is likely to change it up again this Sunday with a likely line-up of:

Adán; Cejudo, Bruno, Jordi, Varela; Xavi Torres, N’Diaye, Ceballos, Portillo; Rubén Castro and Molina. 

The team from Madrid, Alcorcón, haven’t got much to play for. They have secured their place in La Segunda for next season and could still technically make the playoffs, but it is unlikely. Betis will be playing in front of a raucous crowd who will be in fiesta mode.

Today could be the day Betis have been wanting for more than a year. If so, they will put the whole debacle of mis-management and the bear pit of La Segunda behind them.

Kick off is 7pm GMT (8pm in Spain). If you’re that way Twitter inclined, be sure to use the hashtag #yosoyverdiblanco – an initiative started by the club to get everyone in party mood. Also, look out for the huge surprise banner that Betisweb have prepared, which will be in similar vein to the Rubén Castro Jugador de Leyenda banner just above.

Viva el Betis!

Preview: Betis vs Lugo (Sunday)

La Segunda: Top 4

La Segunda: Top 4

Betis can take a step closer to promotion on Sunday when they take on Lugo at el estadio Benito Villamarín in what could be the start of a season-defining week.

Pepe Mel’s men are in his spirits after a vital 2-1 away win at Mallorca last week to maintain their lead of four points at the top of La Segunda. Betis’ home form this season has been very good, winning two thirds of their 18 encounters and losing three.

Team News

As we know, Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina have been in dazzling form. Castro has scored 26 goals this season with Molina weighing in with 16 in La Segunda. However, Castro picked up a bit of a virus after the game in Mallorca, but has trained this week and will be in the squad for Sunday.

Lolo Reyes is a doubt, but Pepe Mel has postponed his squad announcement until Sunday morning to see if he can include Reyes or not. The only definite absence is Dani Pacheco who has a strain of the ankle and will be out for the next two games. Both players didn’t train on Saturday.

Dani Ceballos at the back training this week with Spain u19s

Dani Ceballos at the back training this week with Spain u19s

Dani Ceballos has been training with week in Madrid with the Spanish u19s. However, he returned to Betis at the end of the week and has been training with the first team and he will play this weekend.

The Opponents – Lugo

Lugo on the other hand are stuck in mediocrity. They are currently 14th: eight points off the drop zone and ten points off a playoff place. Their away form is one of the worst in the league having picked up just 12 points in 18 games on the road. They are not on a great run of form at the minute and are without a win in five games. Their last win came at the the very beginning of April with a 4-0 home drubbing of Mallorca.

I wouldn’t say Lugo have nothing to play for as they could theoretically still get dragged into the relegation fight, but it is highly unlikely. In Israel Puerto they have ‘a friend in the enemy’ to Betis as Marca.com put it. Puerto grew up in a family full of béticos, but learnt his football trade as a youth team player at Sevilla. This will be the first time he has faced Betis as a professional. The 21-year-old defender has played nine times for Lugo this season, scoring once.

Busy Schedule

The match against Lugo is the start of what will be a busy and incredibly important week for Betis with three games in seven games: Lugo, Racing Santander and Alcorcón.

By the end of this week we are likely to know whether Betis will be gracing La Liga with their presence once more next season.

Look out for the grand entrance the fans are planning to give the players as they enter the field! #PapelillosAlVillamarín is the hashtag the fans will be using for Twitter.

Promotion nears for Betis after victory Mallorca thanks to Castro and Molina

I feel that Sunday morning in Palma, Mallorca, was a game changer for Betis in their quest for La Liga promotion.

The men of the moment

The men of the moment

Quite frankly, Betis’ record in recent years at the Iberostar, home of RCD Mallorca, has been nothing short of disastrous. Los verdiblancos’ last win at Mallorca came in the 2001/02 season when both teams were playing in La Liga. Betis have been back 10 times since then and haven’t won a single game (four draws and six defeats). As for Real Betis manager, Pepe Mel, he had previously lost four out of four visits to the Balearic Island.

The pressure was laid on even thicker after away wins for both Girona and Sporting Gijón on Saturday, which brought them within one point and three points, respectively, of Real Betis at the summit of La Segunda.

So, if ever there was an opportunity to break their voodoo, Sunday morning was it.

Step up: Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina.

I think I’ve probably mentioned these two before on here, but they did the business again on Sunday to bring a return to La Liga just that bit closer. A goal apiece from the front men helped Betis to a 2-1 win. Both goals were absolute peaches.

Ruben Castro scored a superb individual goal, à la Lionel Messi v Jerome Boateng, to leave the defender on his backside with a face full of grass (see the video below). The second goal was a brilliant team goal with a very smart one-two between that faithful duo of Castro-Molina, leaving Molina with a simple slide in to put Betis 2-0 up.

In scoring the first goal, Rubén Castro equaled Francisco González ‘Paquirri’ as the highest goalscorer in the history of this famous club from Seville. Castro now has 109 goals in 199 games – in la primera: 44 in 93 games, la segunda: 53 in 80, Copa del Rey: 10 in 20 and Europa League: 2 in 6. Not too shabby.

Table from betisweb.com

Ruben Castro’s goalscoring records: Table from betisweb.com

The robin to his batman, the Kel to his Kenan, the Cole to his Yorke, the Dr Watson to his Sherlock Holmes (I could go on…) is Jorge Molina. The man from the Spanish east coast has 73 goals in the green and white of Betis. Although not prolific, Molina has been in fine form this season scoring 16 goals.

The Spanish newspaper, Estadio Deportivo, commented:

Con Rubén, todo es más fácil.”

That is true, everything is easier with Castro, however, Betis didn’t make light work of the second half after conceding a goal to make it 2-1. The struggled, fought and nearly gave it away, but hung on in the end.

Betis boss, Pepe Mel, must have been bubbling with joy inside. He said,

“This is the game I have felt proudest of my team.”

Mel has targeted 80 points as the golden number for promotion. Betis are currently five points off that on 75. With four games left to get to the magic mark, Betis are well on track. However, we have seen things fall apart on a monstrous scales before with Betis, so they should be taking nothing for granted until it is mathematically proven, which I’m sure are Pepe Mel’s thoughts too.