Real Betis’ season so far in La Liga has been very much stop-start. An inconsistent run of games has hampered a Betis side that, personnel wise, looks like one of its best teams in years. The high of victory over Real Madrid was sobered by defeats such as the embarrassing five-nil loss at Eibar.
Although their current league position of eighth marks a drastic improvement from last seasons fifteenth placed finish, a more streamlined tactical outlook could propel this Betis side into a firm contender for the European places.
An historic one-nil victory away to Real Madrid in September cast the Seville club into a different light. Great things were expected to follow. Real Betis had become the first team to stop the mighty Galaticos scoring in 74 games, a remarkable achievement in itself.
The game highlighted an interesting point. Betis, as a club, has struggled to find its own identity for many years. Under manager Quique Setien, they look like a club that has finally found its blueprint. The calmness in possession and the nerve to play the ball out of defence in stoppage time was refreshing. It is a style of play that so many teams try to emulate, yet so few can adequately execute, especially at the Bernabeu of all places.
In the aftermath of the victory over Real Madrid, Setien said, “In these days when everyone thinks you have to run, fight, work, compete, I ask my players to think”. This idea of play was certainly on show that evening in Madrid.
However, since that memorable night, the same style of attractive football has become a hindrance. Betis have conceded just over two goals per game on average. It is fair to suggest that a skewed balance exists between attack and defence. Under Setien’s management, Betis have conceded 83 goals in 36 games in 2017, a worrying statistic.
Most notable in their recent fixtures is an inability to defend set pieces and crosses. This is evident in the losses to Valencia and Eibar as well as the horrendous cup defeat to second-tier Cadiz. In these three matches alone, Betis conceded 16 goals. To put the issue into further perspective, Eibar had only scored 6 goals in their previous 11 games, yet were able to put 5 goals past Adan in the Betis goal.
Having two stereotypical ball playing centre backs that are unable to clear a simple cross is not sustainable. The club hierarchy, in hindsight, might regret sending German Pezzella out on loan. Although he was not the most talented defender with the ball at his feet, he did the basics of defending well.
It is clear that if ‘the Green-and-Whites’ are to sustain any sort of pressure on the top spots in La Liga, priority must be placed on a defensive system that places the simplicity of defending ahead of aesthetically pleasing play. In particular, this must be exercised in away fixtures which have proven to be their main cause for concern this season.
Very few people would deny that a minimum of one new centre back is needed to solidify the defensive unit, however, a more pragmatic approach from Quique Setien on the style of defensive play he wants to see would go a long way in creating a short-term fix to the problem.