Champions League beckoning for Real Betis?
Ben Hardman questions whether Real Betis could do the unthinkable and attempt to qualify for the Champions League.
Real Betis are currently enjoying life in the top four of the best league in the world; a full point ahead of last year’s champions, Real Madrid, and intra-city rivals Sevilla.
Los Béticos are dusting off their memories of just seven years ago when Betis were competing in the group stage of one of the world’s most prestigious footballing competitions. They were taking on the likes of newly crowned Champions League winners Liverpool and they were beating newly crowned Premier League Champions and Roman Abramovich-buoyed Chelsea.
The majesty of the Champions League lies in the wake once again, if only we had completed the ultimate round.
We may be being slightly hoodwinked by the table as in reality Betis have not been showing top four form this season. The seven games played have seen los verdiblancos win four and lose three, not exactly electrifying but fairly solid mid-high table form; if we look at Levante from last season they finished 6th with 16 wins and 15 losses. This season Betis have played four teams who finished above them from last season and won two.
Betis can sustain this form for the whole season. In my view they have strengthened their squad overall, although they have lost some big players such as Iriney, Jefferson Montero and Santa Cruz. Maybe this loss of experience will come into play later in the season, who knows?
I believe the Champions League places are already sewn up: (in no particular order) Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Malaga. However, as was shown last season, the Europa League vacancies are absolutely wide open. Valencia have struggled to find their feet this season with Mauricio Pellegrino unable to discover his best team or formation. Levante are looking like a team that may be finally past it, plus they are competing in the Europe League this season which may act detrimentally on their la liga form as we saw with Athletic Bilbao last season and as for Bilbao they are now a team in disarray.
Europa League then why not? Well, it was around this time last season when the wheels started to come off for Pepe Mel’s Betis side. After occupying 1st place on the fifth round, an infamous losing streak later saw them floundering in 17th place.
Pepe Mel will be more than aware of this. After every game he calls for even harder work in training and even more effort; he does not want a repeat of last season’s fall from grace. They will have to work hard as their squad is being depleted thanks to three red cards in three games. First it was Damien Perquis, then goalkeeper Casto and ultimately the Tenerife-born defender Mario. Mario has now played a grand total of 16 league games for Betis and been sent off in four of them! In fairness to the last red card it was two shockingly bad yellow card decisions from the referee.
Betis do have a saviour and he is called Rubén Castro. After being unceremoniously dropped for the 4-0 drubbing away to Málaga, Castro is once again in top form. He scored on Saturday during the 2-0 home win against Real Sociedad. Thanks to the knowledge of the people of twitter, Castro is the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga in 2012.
It was by no means a vintage performance from Los Verdiblancos, in fact it was a poor display, but they did what they couldn’t really do last season and that is scrapping out the win. Also worth a mention is midfielder Beñat who delivered two fantastic set-pieces for both goals. The key for mounting a Europa League bid will be keeping these men fit and in fine form.
Next up for Betis is an away trip to Osasuna who have started this season in desperate form with just one win from seven. It will be a tough and long trip up to Pamplona but if Pepe Mel gets his tactics right he could return to the south of the country with a positive result.