Benito Villamarin, Sevilla – “Moron! Moron!” shouted the Betis fans. It was not aimed at the Villarreal players, nor the referee. But it was aimed at one of their own. Loren Moron has worn the green and white of Real Betis since his youth – last season he made 23 appearances for Betis’ second team, Betis Deportivo Balompie, in segunda B. But on Saturday afternoon, Quique Setien called the 24-year-old up to the starting 11 of the first team. A dream had been fulfilled. Not only had Moron never started a first team game but he’d never even came on as a substitute. His first experience of the Villamarin was a special one. As he admitted later, “it was a dream debut.”
The club he represents is one with quite a history and a lot going for it; a fantastic, grand stadium that weekly houses thousands of ever-so-passionate supporters from a city that lives and breathes football. The players aren’t bad either – a mix of the old and the new – Cristian Tello, Fabian Ruiz, and Sergio Leon play alongside Antonio Adan, Ruben Castro, and of course Joaquin. The club has often been in la primera but has also tasted life in la segunda – 2014/15 being the most recent.
Their rivalry with their city neighbours is intense – the greatest in the league – and even though Sevilla have had a good time of it recently, Betis can match them for La Liga title victories with one apiece. Los verdiblancos’ most recent trophy success was the 2004/05 Copa del Rey, although at times since then it hasn’t been easy, the support has never waived. Los beticos have often been an exciting team to watch but this season has been like no other. They beat Sevilla 3-5 in a crazy derby in January, not only did they end Real Madrid’s 73 match run of scoring but they brought to an end their 11 match unbeaten La Liga run back in September. Betis’ results this season include two 2-2s, a 4-0 win, two 5-0 defeats, a 3-6, a 4-4, and two 5-3s – accounting for the three highest-scoring games of the season. They certainly are the entertainers.
The manner in which Betis attack games comes partly from the manager. Quique Setien showed at Las Palmas that his style is to play football, no matter the circumstances, no matter the players, always attack and entertain. Successful? Not always but it has certainly won him – and them – many admirers. It has also led Betis to ninth place in the table and a European place is certainly attainable. A step towards the heights that los beticos demand.
The team they faced also entertain European ambitions – a knockout Europa League tie against Lyon is on the horizon for Villarreal and they currently sit in fifth place in the league. Although not as spectacular as Betis, Villarreal have been equally impressive this season. Yet they started poorly with Fran Escriba managing only to survive until September. In came Javi Calleja – a surprising appointment from Villarreal’s B team – but he stabilised their performances. Three wins and a draw in his first four games quelled the frustration in Castellon. They have quietly ascended the table – their football is slick and efficient even if it isn’t quite as gung-ho as Betis’. The team that have been under the radar are starting to get noticed.
Their forward-line of Carlos Bacca and Cedric Bakambu – or BaccaBakambu if you prefer – have mustered 14 goals between them in the league. But the duo became an uno last month when Bakambu chose to move to Beijing Guoan in China and in the process became the 12th most expensive player ever. But Villarreal’s impressive season has not been one of coincidence. Samu Castillejo has always been aesthetically pleasing with fancy touches and skill – some call him the Spanish Di Maria – but this season, maybe due to the more open playing style, he seems to be more effective and his contributions count for more. Pablo Fornals and Manu Trigueros are the beating heart of the side whilst Juame Costa and Mario Gaspar bring experience and know-how. And all of this without club captain and icon Bruno Soriano who has been out since the summer with a knee injury.
To say that Villarreal are overachieving is an understatement. Whereas Betis come from a football-mad city that is also the fourth largest in Spain, Villarreal are based in a town that has a population of about 50,000. Vila-real is not even the biggest town in the Castellon province never mind the Valencian area (in which it’s only the fifteenth largest). Despite their size, they’ve played in Champions League semi-finals, Europa League semi-finals, and even finished runners-up in the league. Javi Calleja is certainly following in the footsteps of Marcelino – who took Villarreal back to primera in 2013 before achieving consecutive sixth-placed finishes and a top-four spot whilst developing homegrown talent.
The match in Sevilla was highly anticipated and it was one that many expected would feature a goal or two. The first 15 minutes was as even as an even contest can be – 50-50 possession, no major chances, and a few fiery tackles each. The mid-afternoon Sevillan sunshine might have been to blame for the rush of blood to the head of Daniele Bonera. The Italian full-back received a straight red-card for a high-foot that made an imprint on the chest of Real Betis’ Ruben Castro. Calleja re-arranged his side and brought on Alvaro Gonzalez to fill the defensive void. Betis also altered – there now being little need to have a back three when the opponents only had one upfront.
The match was never the same after the sending-off on the half-hour mark but it took until first-half stoppage for Betis to capitalise on their one-man advantage. Loren Moron collected the ball inside the Villarreal half and created room for a shot which he struck with ferocity. The ball travelled past Sergio Asenjo into the net whilst Moron ran towards the loudest of the Betis fans behind the goal. The second-half started as the first had ended – with the home side on top – Jose Guardado hit a free-kick just wide of the post.
But Villarreal did have chances of their own. Castillejo’s tricky feet and willowy legs was a cause for concern for the Betis defenders but it was Bacca that came the closest to scoring the visitors’ equaliser. A number of poor touches and deflections from Betis defenders allowed the ball to drop at the feet of the Colombian who shot from just inside the area only for it to come back off the post. It was an opportunity that los amarillos were left ruing minutes later as Loren doubled his, and Betis’, tally by heading a Fabian shot past Asenjo.
Villarreal did get a goal back – Antonio Barragan brought down substitute Denis Cheryshev in the area for a penalty that Bacca duly converted – but it was too little too late. Moren even had a chance to bag a hatrick when he received the ball with space in the area following a distinctive Betis counter but his shot was tame and straight into the hands of Asenjo. That would have been the cherry on the top of the cake, but anyway it had hardly been a bad afternoon. “It was the first time that I wore this shirt on this pitch,” said Moren, “it was a dream come true.” “To play for Betis has been my ambition for a while, hopefully, this will be the first of many appearances for my club and the club that means so much to so many.”
Los Otros Puntos
- It was quite a weekend in the Basque country. It began on Friday when Deportivo were destroyed 5-0 by a Real Sociedad side that have been in rather poor form of late. Willian Jose got the first goal just after the half-hour mark but the other four all came in the final thirty minutes. The match at the Anoeta proved to be the last for Depor manager Cristobal Parrolo. The goalscoring fever then made its way deeper into the Basque mountains on Saturday when Eibar surprisingly beat Sevilla by five goals to one bringing Vincenzo Montella’s decent start as Sevilla manager to a grinding halt. The Basques dominated from minute one – literally as Kike scored with barely 30 seconds on the clock – and Fabian Orellana, who scored a double, was particularly impressive. This match might have possibly represented a new high for Eibar – and during the past few seasons, they certainly haven’t been short of them. Then to Vitoria where Alaves continued their good run under new manager Aberlado by defeating a Celta Vigo side that have been impressive themselves this season. One thing is for sure; the pintxos bars of the Basque country will have certainly done good trade this weekend.
- Real Madrid returned to Valencia for the second consecutive weekend, this time to take on a Levante side hovering just above the relegation zone and in poor form. It looked like Isco’s 81st minute strike would be the winner for the visitors – a Sergio Ramos header had given Real the lead with his first goal of the season before Emmanuel Boateng scored Levante’s equaliser just before half-time, it was the first goal that a Levante player had scored at home in the league since early November – but debutant Giampaolo Pazzini dramatically snatched an equaliser in the 89th minute. The point and performance was one for las granotas to savour whilst for Real it was an unhappy return to the city where things went so well last week.
- Both Gerards – Moreno and Pique – scored in a full-blooded and intense Catalan derby. Espanyol took the lead and for a while it appeared – just like last weekend against Alaves – that Barcelona’s unbeaten run was going to end. But the player who has become a spokesman for Catalonia in recent years, Gerard Pique, headed past Diego Lopez to extend Barca’s run to 22 matches. However, the name that was on everyone’s lips wasn’t even on the pitch – Leo Messi was on the bench for the first time this season but Ernesto Valverde did bring him on for the final 30 minutes.
- “Our history, your dreams” read the banner unfurled by the Getafe fans – the bigger of the two small teams based in the southern Madrid have experienced European competition and even a Copa del Rey final in the past 15 years. But if Leganes continue their rise then they will soon replicate the achievements of their suburban neighbours – it is a credit to Asier Garitano that Leganes can reach their first Copa final on Wednesday. The 90 minutes played between the two rivals on Sunday, however, will not go down in history.
Real Sociedad 5–0 Deportivo
Eibar 5–1 Sevilla
Real Betis 2–1 Villarreal
Alaves 2–1 Celta Vigo
Levante 2–2 Real Madrid
Getafe 0–0 Leganes
Espanyol 1–1 Barcelona
Girona 2–0 Athletic Bilbao
Atletico Madrid 1–0 Valencia
Las Palmas – Malaga to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Loren Moron (Real Betis)
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