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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Deportivo-Betis: continue of the turnaround at La Riazor?

Betis have hit a rich vein of form, yes that’s correct they beat Valencia last weekend; a whole one win on the bounce. It was a savoured moment, a glimpse of light striking through a long, dark tunnel that we’ve been recently travelling through.

Betis’ last league win came at the tail end of November when they beat Levante. Since then they’d gone 9 league games without a win. Looks like Gary Neville is gunning for that record with the way his Valencia team are playing. I’m going to say Betis deserved the victory last weekend. It was 1-0 and Valencia could have snatched a point towards the end but it wasn’t to be and Betis hung on for a much needed win. I must admit we have looked a lot better in our last four games against some very good La Liga teams – draw against Villarreal and Madrid, narrow defeat at Real Sociedad and a win against Valencia.

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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!

Highlights: Málaga CF (0-1) Real Betis

I didn’t get to watch the game at the weekend, but the above video shows Rubén Castro’s accomplished finish to give Betis a much needed 1-0 victory. Extended highlights shown below.

The video shows not a lot of Betis action and quite a few Málaga chances. Luckily for Pepe Mel and co Betis had Antonio Adán in goal. He made a couple of world-class saves to enhance his growing reputation and keep Betis in the game. Adán has been in excellent form this season and has been one of los verdiblancos stand out performers, which may say something about this season.

At the other end of the pitch, trustworthy Rubén Castro is still tucking them away – the only person who ever seems to do so! This weekend he showed fantastic composure to caress the ball past Kameni in the Málaga goal, which proved to be game winning.

This season he has seven la liga goals in 11 games, just one behind Cristiano Ronaldo and two behind Luis Suárez. He keeps on delivering and is one of few players that Betis can depend on.

The three points stopped Betis’ three game win-less streak and kept them around mid-table in 11th place. Our away form is massively helping us out at the minute and has so far contributed to 11 out of the 15 points accumulated. Just the home form to sort out now!

Another international break coming up now with play to resume on the 22nd November where we will be entertaining Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 20.05.44

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!

Pepe Mel – should he stay or go?

Just when I, and a few other people, thought Betis had found their style, a new effective way to play, they have put in two very poor performances in the last two weeks.

A crushing 3-1 defeat at home to Espanyol last weekend and a lacklustre 1-1 draw away at Granada yesterday has left many béticos with a sense of emptiness and lack of optimism in regards to the future; in particular to the future of cult hero Pepe Mel. Before the international break things were fairly rosy at the club but since the return there’s a certain lingering sense of foreboding around the club.

ABC de Sevilla journalist, Mateo González, writes passionately today about the club asking – do Betis know how to play? What is our thing? Do we keep possession and try and break teams down with nice, attractive football? Do we sit back and play the counter attack with Joaquín and Rubén Castro punishing teams on the break? Do we play with a quick tempo or a slow tempo or something in between?

The answer is I don’t know. Neither do the fans and neither do the team.

Yesterday at Granada, who were rock bottom, Betis looked bad. They conceded after 2 minutes and that threw them off the whole game. Rubén Castro slotted home a penalty near the end of the first half during a period of 10 minutes were Betis looked half-dangerous. Aside from that, we didn’t see anything in regards to flair, spirit or capability.

More passion and the Betis way please Pepe!

More passion and the Betis way please Pepe!

Pepe Mel said, “we had too many hesitations”. It seems to be the same problem: if it’s not Rubén Castro then it’s nobody. Mel started Rennella up top who contributed precisely nothing. Summer signing Portillo, who hasn’t really impressed me, also did nothing.

Despite signing a new contract after months of wrangling and committing his immediate future to Betis, Dani Ceballos was left on the bench, although he is easily one of our best players. Why? Not sure. He came on in the second half and had no impact whatsoever. Don’t really blame him, the game was half dead.

Let’s be clear, Betis have made a decent start to the season. They are sat in 10th place, with 12 points from 9 games: three wins, draws and losses apiece (exactly the same as Sevilla). The only aim of this season is safety. Do not get relegated. So, for me Pepe Mel’s job should not be under fire.

However, a few béticos are starting to panic and get a little worried about the unfolding situation. It seems that Betis have lost their mojo and impetus. Historically, Pepe Mel’s team are attacking, exciting and good to watch. Defence was always a second thought and this fitted the Betis philosophy perfectly. It didn’t work all the time but the fans liked it. However, Mel got accused of a lack of tactile nouse, the inability to adopt a different approach to get a result. I know I used to write about it at the time.

Build the team around Ceballos

Build the team around Ceballos

Right now we are seeing a whole lot of nothing. As Mateo González says, with the likes of Rubén Castro, Joaquín and Ceballos, Betis have the talent that their rivals for relegation just don’t have. The team needs to be centred around these 3 – sin duda! Combine these with Alfred N’Diaye in centre-midfield, Westermann/Bruno centre-defence and Antonio Adán in goal and Betis have a very solid team.

We have seen a few versions of Betis already this season and right now according to Miguel Ángel Benítez Merelo, we are seeing a flat and grey version. Like Mateo, Miguel writes passionately about the two versions of Pepe Mel. The first when he took over and the second version since his reinstatement. Miguel says Mel is now more defensive and more resultadista – driven by results and not the brand of football that made him a fan favourite.

He and I’m sure the majority of the fans want to see good football. Boring just isn’t Betis. The club motto – long live Betis even when we lose – relates to the football played. If the players but in an entertaining performance full of heart and determination, the fans will love them. Despite this there does need to be an element, a slight element, of results play. The last thing we want is to be back in la segunda again. This balance needs to be struck.

Watching the game yesterday I was urging the team to do something. At 1-1 the game was there for the taking for both sides. I wanted to see Betis go for it! Try and sneak that second goal – like they did at Sporting Gijón – and show a bit of ambition. If they concede whilst going to win the game then so be it, shit happens. That’s what used to happen. Perhaps Mel is trying to move Betis forward to become a more ‘effective’ team? Miguel doesn’t want this Mel.

I do agree, but I think getting rid of Mel now would be both cold and stupid. They did it last time and the club still ended up getting relegated. He deserves to have the time to get his team playing the way he wants. What he does need to do though is but Dani Ceballos in the centre of midfield and build a team around him.

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!

Rubén Castro and Joaquín steer Betis to victory

Rubencastro_ceballos_abrazo

Rubén & Dani Ceballos (via sevilla.abc.es)

The combination Béticos had been dreaming of all summer became reality on Saturday evening when Rubén Castro and Joaquín joined forces.

Not only did they just adorn the same green and white shirt on what was the 108th anniversary of this great football club, they combined through their footballing forces to create the match-winning goal in the 41st minute. Jorge Molina played the ball out wide to Joaquín who was just there occupying the space on the right wing, about five yards back from the edge of the box. Exactly where you would want your winger when the play is on the other side and exactly what Betis have been missing for a long time.

As the ball travelled to Joaquín, the Real Sociedad defence were on the scramble to get out to him. His first touch was ok, he readjusted slightly, then whipped in a majestic ball to the far post on line with the 6 yard box where waiting was just the man you would want: Rubén Castro, who had just peeled off the last defender. A diving header later and the ball was in the opposite corner. Wonderful.

David Moyes had been Rubén Castro’d.

There were many other pleasing aspects to this result. One that wasn’t pleasing was the sending off of centre-midfielder Petros on the stroke of half time for his second booking. However, with 10 men Betis didn’t falter. Pepe Mel showed a good tactical side combined with intelligence to see the game out, something which he has been critiqued for in the past.

After the sending off, Mel brought off Molina and replaced him with Dani Ceballos, whereas David Moyes through on the artillery in Chory Castro.

However, Betis had a new name in the centre of defence: Heiko Westermann. The German made his debut on Saturday and was a solid wall. Something else that Betis needed, after a bit of a shaky start. He added order and physicality. It doesn’t matter than La Real are yet to score this season. He did a job and he did it bloody well, getting his head on everything and adding a bit of tenacity to proceedings.

Betis showed a spirit on Saturday which had been missing a bit during pre-season (understandbly) and the opening couple of games.Yes, they suffered and it wasn’t vintage, but in front of just less than 40,000 fans, this was the real Betis.  There were two debuts on Saturday and both played brilliantly: Joaquín and Westermann.

With lots of new signings, the team are going to take a while to gel and produce, but this was a great sign of the things to come.

You can see highlights of the game here courtesy of the fantastic www.videosdelbetis.com

A new Bético in the stands

At the weekend Linus Lövgren (@LajnusLovgren), huge Betis fan and friend of BlogBetis.com, made the trip from Sweden to Sevilla to watch his first Betis game. Linus has been making great videos about Betis for years (see his youtube channel here) and is well known in the community, he even managed to get a few mentions in the local papers!

Nice one Linus y mucho Betis!

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!

Preview: Betis vs Villarreal

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 16.55.21And so the moment is finally upon us: The Return. It has been a good while, but tonight el Benito Villamarín will be packed with 42,000 season ticket holders – the most Betis have ever sold – and a few more too.

As I’ve pointed out previously over the past few weeks, the pre-season build up hasn’t been the best in terms of performances or results, but all that is forgotten tonight. The slate has been cleaned and everyone starts on zero points.

Team News

Betis head into the game with two injuries, who both happen to be new signings. Both Didier Digard and Rafael Van der Vaart will play no part tonight. However, there is room in the 19 for Dani Ceballos, who has been the subject to a tremendous amount of transfer speculation. Betis have made him a very good offer to renew but he hasn’t signed, with Real Madrid said to be hot pursuit.

Here is the full 19 man squad: Adán, Dani Giménez, Piccini, Molinero, Westermann, Bruno, Pezzella, Vargas, Varela, Xavi Torres, N’Diaye, Petros, Portillo, Cejudo, Fabián, Dani Ceballos, Rennella, Jorge Molina & Rubén Castro.

There is no room for Jordi Figueras nor Amro Tarek for technical reasons.

The starting 11 is likely to be: Adán; Piccini, Pezzella (new signing), Bruno, Vargas (new signing); N’Diaye, Petros (new signing), Cejudo, Ceballos; Rubén Castro & Jorge Molina.

The big question is whether Ceballos will start because of the recent speculation. He is fully fit, so I don’t see why he shouldn’t play. The front two will be familiar to everyone who has watched Betis over the last couple of seasons. They are both well into their 30s now, but did the business for Betis last season in scoring a substantial amount of goals.

I certainly think Pepe Mel needs to bring in another frontman to accompany these two to give the team a little bit more strength in depth.

The Opponents

Tonight’s opponents are Villarreal. Under the guidance of Head Coach Marcelino, they finished in a extremely respectable 6th place last season. The yellow submarine have been busy over the summer, seeing 13 players go and bringing in 8. Amongst the 11 they have brought in, include Roberto Soldado in a €10 million deal from Tottenham and Leo Baptistao on loan from Atlético Madrid, who will be family to béticos as he was also loaned in 2013.

For those in the UK, tonight’s game kicks off at 21:30 GMT and will be live on Sky Sports. The atmosphere will be unreal, so make sure you get it on just before kick off.

Joaquín News

He has apparently enrolled his two children at a school in Seville and isn’t included in the starting line for Fiorentina’s match against AC Milan. Is the writing on the wall?