It had taken them longer than expected to make their return to La Liga, so Real Betis were never going to let it go that easily. Pepe Mel guided his team to safety all while playing attractive football, and credit to him for retaining that belief as other clubs were happy to opt for mediocrity. With the magician Benat in midfield and Ruben Castro’s clinical striking prowess, the club kept their heads above water and now they wish to swim into calmer waters.
The decision of Betis’ owners to keep Mel in charge was a key one, especially given that the team embarked on a terrible run mid-season. Now though, much more is expected as Betis look to establish themselves as a true La Liga side once again. Mid-table is the least they expect, and given the players within the club they are more than capable of achieving the task. Although crowd favourite Jefferson Montero saw his loan spell end, Roque Santa Cruz departed and midfield general Iriney went to Granada, much is expected of a young and talented group.
Paulao has made his loan permanent, with the Brazilian central defender key in Betis’ second half of the season upturn in form. Benat will look as ever to guide from midfield, and ahead of him along with Ruben Castro is a wave of new talent. Joel Campbell arrives from Arsenal on loan, while Salvador Agra comes in from Olahense. Then there is an exciting crop of talent from the cantera, who have shown for some time they’re ready for a chance – they’ll get it too with several handed first team squad numbers. Alejandro Pozuelo leads that group, the exciting attacking midfielder with some magic in his boots.
Villamarin is always packed and brings with it one of the finest sights and sounds in Spain, the ferocious Betis support are a match for many in the country and really get behind their team. After years of suffering they don’t wish to experience that again, and seeing their team climb the table like they used to is a dream of theirs.
The difference maker – Benat
Few in La Liga move the ball across the turf with the grace and intelligence of the Basque midfielder, and few take a direct free-kick quite like him too. Central midfield is his place, and from that position he dictates the tempo for Betis, and generally conducts all their approach play. His vision and technique gets players in behind defences, and also takes the pressure off his own defence with a calming influence.
Best signing – Salvador Agra
An exciting attacking midfielder from Portugal who will look to overpower defences with his muscular frame and wing prowess. The U-21 International has a fantastic delivery on him, and Ruben Castro will be looking to take full advantage.
His time? Alejandro Pozuelo
A product of the lively Betis cantera, it will be down to Pozuelo to find gaps in opponents’ defences. The technically gifted midfielder will look to glide through the attacking third maintaining the fluidity of Betis’ play. If he can find consistency this season he could be a revelation, given his level of talent.
Coach – Pepe Mel
Mel took time to have a book published last season, and the charismatic Coach will look to write a brand new chapter in Betis’ history by taking this young team to new heights. He strives for his sides to play an attractive, attacking game built on possession and likes his wide players to have plenty of vibrancy. Mel switched between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 last season so expect him to do the same.
The big question…
Can the youth blend with the experience to succeed? There will be a lot of youngsters in the dressing room next season and it will be essential the pressure doesn’t get to them. Iriney’s loss was a blow, so it will be up to the other experienced characters to lead the way. If the mix is handled correctly then there is no reason why Betis can’t finish in the top half, but too much rotation and lack of consistency from players will see them near the drop zone.
Probable line-up: Fabricio; Nelson, Amaya, PAULAO, Alex Martínez; RUBEN PEREZ, Benat, Canas; CAMPBELL, AGRA, Ruben Castro
IN: Agra (m, Olhanense), Ruben Perez (m, Getafe), Paulao (d, St. Etienne), Juan Carlos (a, Real Zaragoza), Joel Campbell (a, Arsenal).
OUT: Jefferson Montero (Monarcas Morelia), Iriney (Granada), Ustaritz (Athletic), Roque Santa Cruz (Man City)