Real Betis have begun their crucial 24-day run of fixtures in the build-up to Christmas with the perfect start. Last week, they clinched qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Olympiakos and three days later, they secured a 1-0 win at home to an in-form Real Sociedad in La Liga.
Both victories were important in very different senses – one guaranteeing the prestige of European football will tick into March at least and the other a much-needed three points in La Liga – ahead of five more significant matches in the busiest time of the campaign.
Ahead of Christmas, Quique Setien’s side face further ‘winnable’ home matches in the league against Rayo Vallecano and Eibar respectively whilst also travelling to an out-of-form Espanyol. They have a chance to continue their new-found momentum in cup competitions too, travelling to Dudelange in Luxembourg – a win would ensure they top their Europa League qualification group – and hosting Racing Santander in the second leg of their Copa del Rey clash.
It is not unfeasible to predict that Betis could enter Christmas with seven successive victories under their belt and looking resurgent. On the other hand, it is in this club’s makeup to fail when it appears, they have established a position in which they can push on. It’s a test of Setien and his players of course but it represents a massive opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.
Such is the compact nature of this La Liga season, Los Verdiblancos were only five points above the relegation zone going into the latest round of fixtures. The three points over La Real afforded them essential breathing space and now they are a mere five points from the top four – a feat which would be unlikely, but far from impossible.
Betis have had their struggles this year but they are above many of their primary challengers for a top four spot: Valencia and Villarreal to name but two. The early-season form of Alaves, Levante and Girona will almost certainly be unsustainable over the course of a campaign while high-flying Espanyol have just lost three games in a row.
Many fans in the city of Seville will highlight the eight-point lead which Sevilla hold over their city rivals yet this is due to Pablo Machin’s side grinding out results and capitalising when on top in games. Betis have already been beaten at home by Levante and Real Valladolid, while they had to come from two goals down to rescue a point against 10-man Athletic Club of Bilbao.
This season in Spain is less predictable than any which has preceded it in recent memory, but the next three weeks could well define the season for Betis.
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