This season, Spanish side Real Betis won only the fourth title in their history when they held aloft the Copa del Rey. This has just confirmed the growth that they have experienced throughout the season, finishing in 5th place in La Liga, confirming their presence in next season’s Europa League, and just missing out on a Champions League spot.
Without a doubt, Betis have been a revelation this season, although their success may be less of a surprise to those who recognise the quality of their coach, Manuel Pellegrini. With Pellegrini at the helm, they have ascended to the upper echelons of La Liga and, year after year, have been taking steps towards this season’s cup win.
With combinative and attractive football, the Spanish team has been arousing a lot of interest as the season has gone on. Copa del Rey champions, in the last 16 of the Europa League, and, although they ultimately didn’t succeed, a valiant battle for a Champions League place next season.
Without a doubt, the Andalusian team have had one of their best campaigns in recent memory.
Betis waits in a folded position in midfield and, from there, exerts high pressure, forcing the opposition out to the wings where up to 3 players press the opposition to halt the advance. One goes to apply direct pressure whilst another blocks the passing lines and the 3rd slots into the space left by the player applying the direct pressure.
If the opposition succeeds in overcoming this initial pressure, Betis set up a defensive line of 4 players with a couple midfielders just out in front. These two lines of defense allow them to protect the goal with maximum efficiency until the rest of the team arrives and they can regroup into a 4-4-1-1 defensive formation.
When it comes to defending crosses, they gather up to 6 players in the box: one at the near post, one in the middle of the goal, one at the far post, one on the penalty spot and two more hanging around the edge of the box. One of these players always goes towards the ball to put pressure on the cross.
When starting from a goal kick, Betis begin their build up by placing the 2 central defenders in an open position, whilst one of the midfielders drops back to assist and create a line of three central defenders.
The wing backs are positioned in a more advanced position whilst the wing forwards push into the opposition half to attract the defenders and open space in the middle of the park for the full backs and midfielders to advance through.
They usually try to provide at least 2 support players to the man with the ball, forming a triangle. Between the 3 players, they can move the ball around easily.
They also have a long ball option with which they look for movement behind the opposition's defensive lines, receiving the ball and pushing towards the goal.
At an attacking level, Pellegrini’s team is very clear about what they want to do, playing an extremely vertical game with combinative football. They use the wings a lot to set up crosses and take advantage of the prowess of their forwards, Iglesias and José.
For crosses, they ensure that there are up to 3 players waiting to pounce on the shooting chance. They take up positions at the near and far posts and on the penalty spot. Generally, they have a couple players at the edge of the box waiting for rebounds too.
These opportunities are created in various ways. One is how they attack the opposition winger, by incorporating their own winger and passing to him deep. This means that they can win the baseline easily, especially on the right wing.
The movement of the winger is also important for creating space by coming inside and moving closer to the ball.
The individual contributions of both Fekir and Canales stand out. These two players allow the team to create surprises outside the box by shooting, passing or continuing to drive forward.
After losing the ball, Betis tend to apply very high pressure, which allows them to recover balls in the opposition half and surprise the other team. Up to 3 players approach the ball holder with suffocating pressure to force the opposition to retreat, lose possession, or launch a long ball. All of these are used by Betis to recover possession and mount a counter.
If the opposition overcome this initial pressure, Betis fall back to the middle of the field and organise themselves in two lines of 4 to defend the goal.
One of the most dangerous weapons in the Betis arsenal is their transitions. When they steal, Canales and Fekir bolt through the middle, accompanied by several teammates who stampede at full speed. Two position themselves out wide, while another positions himself to receive the pass at the front at all times.
Good distribution makes their transitions very dangerous, since they are usually well placed to reach the danger zone.
In addition, they also rely on a slower transition. If there is no clear route forward and, especially, if there are many opposition players behind the ball who are organised and ready for the surprise attack, they prioritise securing possession and reset for a more organised push forward.
Manuel Pellegrini is proving that the success he achieved with teams like Villarreal or Málaga were no fluke. Even after his experience at Real Madrid, where he lost the league to a record-breaking Barcelona, he is capable of adapting to the idiosyncrasies of a club like Betis. This is a club with a proud history and, although not among biggest spenders, is still an institution in Spanish football.
With a clearly attractive passing game, it’s a pleasure to watch Real Betis play. A great game plan has allowed them to secure a foothold in the upper echelons of La Liga, and we’re sure there is more to come from them in the future.
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