Last season, Real Betis were the great entertainers of La Liga. Under new boss Quique Setien, there was a grand total of 121 goals across their 38 matches – averaging more than three per game. Some of the results included a 4-4, a 3-6 defeat, a 3-5, a 5-3 victory and two 5-0 defeats. It was all or nothing, with entertainment prioritised and results seemingly an afterthought.
After picking up just four clean sheets in their first 22 league outings, nine followed in a two-month spell from February to April as Betis began their transformation from chaos to control. Since a shock opening day 3-0 defeat to Alaves, Betis have kept seven clean sheets from nine in all competitions. However, they also have the unwanted title of the league’s lowest scorers – with just five in eight games.
There are several reasons behind the change in identity. A key aspect was Marc Bartra’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund in January. The former Barcelona central defender has excelled in Seville and has subsequently earned a call-up to the Spain national team for the games against Wales and England. He has starred in the heart of a new-look three-man defence, usually flanked by Aissa Mandi and Sidnei – a summer arrival from Deportivo La Coruna.
All three are encouraged to move forward with the ball at their feet and, crucially, all three are comfortable in possession. They play ahead of similarly confident goalkeepers – Pau Lopez and Joel Robles both were signed on free transfers this summer. Under vice president Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, Betis have worked hard to land players who fit the profile of Setien’s possession-heavy style.
They did not have to sign any of their regular wing-backs, with Junior Firpo and Francis Guerrero both promoted from the club’s youth team. They are examples of Setien’s commitment to youth. Central midfielder Fabian Ruiz was sold to Napoli for €30m after a stellar debut season for the club, while striker Loren Moron has nine La Liga goals in just 17 starts since his February debut.
However, the 24-year-old is the only natural goal scorer in Setien’s squad. Sergio Leon netted 13 last season but has not found the net this time around while Antonio Sanabria’s form has not properly recovered since a knee injury last November. Patience and confidence are key in the Betis system for the attacking players, and both are short on this at present.
Despite the often-sterile nature of their attacking play, Betis lie just four points from the league table summit having already played Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid. They now dominate most games with teams setting up to stifle them. When Setien arrived the club were perennial underachievers yet now they are respected, and feared, across Spain’s top flight. The image makeover will continue to pay dividends.
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