MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from Sunday's La Liga showdown between Real Betis and Real Madrid.
Real Betis v Real Madrid | Sunday 7th March 2020, 20:00 | La Liga TV
January 19th: Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad.
Rubi's men blew the Basques away and it felt like a turning point at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, with Betis four points off European football despite a disappointing first half of the season. That game indeed proved to be a turning point – for both teams.
Four days later, having conceded a late equaliser at Rayo Vallecano, Betis were knocked out of the Copa del Rey on penalties and have failed to win any of their six matches since. Real Sociedad have won NINE of their next ten games since that Betis “bath” and find themselves in a Copa del Rey final and two points off a Champions League place.
When in rains in Seville, it pours: next up for Betis are league leaders Real Madrid, fresh off their El Clásico success, and their neighbours Sevilla – a team going through their own strange situation. Barring an extraordinary turn of events, Rubi will not be at Heliópolis much longer.
Los Verdiblancos have had Madrid’s number in recent visits to the Bernabéu with two wins and a draw in their last three meetings in the Spanish Capital but they will be looking to improve their record in the reverse fixture. The last three league meetings in the Benito Villamarin have seen Real Madrid win with both teams scoring on each occasion and an aggregate of 13-5.
In the wake of their morale-sapping defeat to Valencia last Saturday, where they actually played quite well, Marca declared that ‘all Betis have left now is to escape relegation trouble,’ judging their season to be a ‘total shipwreck.’ When you glance over their squad list, it’s hard not to disagree.
When it comes to Betis, neither the numbers nor the eyes deceive. After 26 games, Rubi´s men have scored 36, conceded 42 and there is very little difference between the actual numbers and the expected stats (xG 34, xGA 39).
Always watch Betis
At the Benito Villamarín, Betis have scored 25 and conceded 20 in the 13 games they have hosted. Granada, for example, have conceded eight in 13.
This feels like Rubi’s last stand to record a memorable home win that could save his job. Even that mightn’t be enough. This is Rubi’s cup final; this is Betis's last box office home game of the season and he knows a failure to record a win in either of the two games on the horizon and he will be searching for a new job come the summer. It's that simple.
Betis have recorded back to back wins in front of their gente once in the last calendar year and this lack of consistency has hurt them badly; 19 of their last 20 home league games has seen both teams score – they’re a neutrals delight.
They have some fabulous players; Sergio Canales, Joaquin, Carles Aleñá and Nabil Fekir provide the team with mix of class, fun, ingenuity and flair – players who mesh nicely with how Betis fans like to see the game played. Alex Moreno and Emerson inject pace and power from wide areas but the team continues to concede more than it scores and therein lies the problem – at both ends. After the defeat in Mestalla, Canales alluded to the errors the team keeps making ‘which are killing us.’
Joaquin will be 39 in July but he continues to perform at an incredibly high level while every time I see Nabil Fekir on the ball, I wonder how he ended up by the banks of the Guadalquivir.
It’s hard not to make a comparison between him and Eden Hazard in terms of shape and size, movement and style. If he manages to evade Casemiro, he has the potential to really hurt Madrid.
Betis fans have been spoiled with individual talent in recent years: Dani Ceballos, Giovani Lo Celso, now the ex-Lyon star. Along with their captain, these are players who embody the Betis way on the pitch.
There have been times when Betis have been tremendous to watch but it always feels like they’re a five-minute siesta away from it all going wrong. They took the lead twice against Barcelona but ended the night with nothing to show for their efforts. The following home game against Mallorca, they came from behind twice to then take the lead only to be stung later in the second half. When you concede six goals in two home games you really have no hope.
Viva el Betis manque pierda
Betis fans appreciate a certain type of football; a football that has a rhythm and flow, football that has bit of class and bravery on the ball. Like the city, it feels unique, with its own view on how life should be lived and enjoyed. I always get that feeling in the Benito Villamarin. It's more than just the three points. It's the flow and rhythm of the noise and music and football that makes Sevilla so brilliant.
When Betis are on form and the crowd begin to dar palmas (the style of rhythmic flamenco clapping) that builds to a crescendo as the attack gathers momentum, the Benito Villamarín feels like a special place..
It’s curious to note that despite their terrible season, Betis fans have largely stuck by their team and manager. On the other side of the city, Sevilla have been booed off the pitch after securing progress in the Europa League and a stoppage time win over Osasuna which put them third in the table, having let a two-goal lead slip to an out of sorts, ten-man Osasuna. Sevilla have been ruggedly efficient but something’s not quite right there.
Perhaps it's those flashes of brilliance by their attacking midfielders that have wooed the fans who pride themselves in the loving their team ‘manque pierda,’ even when they lose.
Clásico come down?
This game will tell us a lot about both teams: how will Madrid follow up an impressive Clásico win which saw them expend a huge amount of emotional energy. Do they have the focus to get back to those levels again? This is the same Madrid, of course, who dropped points to Celta Vigo and Levante only a few weeks ago.
It will be a packed Benito Villamarín, the sun looks set to be shining in Seville on Sunday afternoon and it’s Betis last chance to do something in front of their home fans.
This is a real test of Madrid’s mettle and this one should be close. If they arrive flat after their Clásico win they could be chinned and Betis have to firepower to punish any sluggishness. The title race may just see another turn Sunday night.
Madrid will be happy to bide their time and wait until Betis commit errors, because when Betis it’s a matter of when, not if.
Madrid should win this one. They have the better defence and in Vinicius Jr they have a player who can really hurt the hosts when the home side try to force the game. His battle with his compatriot Emerson should be fascinating.
Friday’s Diario AS mentioned Betis’s Barca connection with the likes of Marc Bartra, Carles Aleñá, Emerson and Cristian Tello and their added-motivation should add a bit of extra bite.
The reverse fixture somehow ended 0-0 in November but, given the fact a draw is not much good to either, it´s hard to imagine a repeat low-scoring stalemate.
Every dog has its day but backing Betis can make you looking very stupid, very quickly given their propensity to implode at any minute, undoing all their good work.
The numbers and common sense say an away win. Madrid win and Both Teams To Score = will have plenty of followers and rightly so all things considered.
I’ll be having a nibble on Betis to get something here, more out of sheer romanticism than anything else.
Real Betis v Real Madrid – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (5/6 Bet365)
Real Betis v Real Madrid – Real Betis Draw No Bet (11/5 Sportingbet)
Real Betis v Real Madrid – Nabil Fekir to score first (8/1 each-way Bet365)
Real Betis v Real Madrid – 2-2 correct score (12/1 Bet365)