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Saturday August 20 2016
2016-17 Season Preview: Real Betis

Change swept Real Betis over the summer in the form of a new Coach, sporting director and players, and Colin Millar believes it is all for the better.

Coach: Gus Poyet

Key signings: Riza Durmisi, Felipe Gutierrez, Antonio Sanabria

Key sales: Heiko Westermann, Alfred N’Diaye, Rafael van der Vaart

Last season: 10th

This season (predicted finish): 13th

Having won promotion in 2015, last season was all about establishing themselves back in the top flight with few thrills and spills. A top-half finish is slightly misrepresentative of what at times was a tough season for Los Verdiblancos, who only finished seven points ahead of a return straight back to Segunda.

By the end of November, they had accumulated more points on the road than any other team, yet they mustered only one victory (over Gary Neville’s Valencia) in December, January and February combined, a run which saw coach Pepe Mel replaced by caretaker Juan Merino.

Just like across the city at Sevilla, this has been a summer of change for Betis. Gus Poyet has been instilled as permanent Coach following a stint at AEK Athens, while new sporting director Miguel Torrecilla, who built an excellent reputation at Celta Vigo, has also been busy to give this squad a distinct, fresh feel.

Antonio Sanabria, who netted 11 goals for Sporting Gijon last year, was the marquee summer signing. The club agreed a has put pen to paper on a five-year contract with Betis, who have paid Roma a reported €7.5m and rewarded the 20-year-old with the No 9 shirt. He is one of a number of intriguing signings by the club, with full-back pair Riza Durmisi (Brondby) and Aissa Mandi (Reims) also arriving for a combined €7m. Twenty-two-year-old Durmisi has established himself in Denmark’s national team, while Mandi can play anywhere across the back line, is an Algerian regular and even a goal threat – as seen by his 11 goals in his last two seasons in Ligue 1.

Charly Musonda arrived on a loan deal from Chelsea in January and flourished in Betis’ spring revival, and the flamboyant Belgian youngster has returned on a season-long loan. Other additions include French central midfielder Jonas Martin, Ukraine striker Roman Zozulya and a loan deal for Villarreal winger Matias Nahuel.

Rafael van der Vaart has departed after a hugely underwhelming year at the club, moving to Danish side FC Midtjylland after only seven appearances. Seven other first-team squad members have also left, including German defender Heiko Westermann and experienced striker Jorge Molina.

Betis enjoyed a strong preseason, including wins against Middlesbrough, Fulham, Everton, Werder Bremen and Sporting CP, with the team appearing more energetic and vibrant than last season, when they often seemed disjointed and hastily thrown together.

The club have set a target of a European finish this campaign, which does not seem particularly unlikely considering the fresh sense of optimism sweeping the club. For the first time in years, the Andalusians have a clear identity and there should be no repeat of any relegation concerns which lingered until March of last season.

Poyet’s spell at Sunderland may have tarnished his managerial reputation, but Seville is the perfect city for him to win over his critics.

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