Betis’ battle for form

No win in five League matches and a painful stoppage time defeat to Malaga last Sunday night, if Real Betis were in need of a prescription to help ease their pains this season it is certainly not a dose of unbeaten table toppers Barcelona.

Pepe Mel’s side will welcome the Catalans into their Benito Villamarin home sat in the bottom three, level with Rayo Vallecano and Almeria on nine points at the bottom and barely recognisable from the side which qualified for the Europa League last season playing an exciting variety of football.

Their midfield trio of Benat Extebarria, Jose Canas and Ruben Perez all departed in the summer, along with several other players, while Mel was forced to bring 14 new players in on little to no budget. It’s also been unfortunate that last season’s top scorer, Ruben Castro, has been reduced to just one appearance in La Liga this season, which he scored in, through injury.

The transition didn’t seem that alarming when they visited Real Madrid on the opening weekend of the season though. Cedrick, signed for €1, was insatiable and Joan Verdu, who arrived on a free transfer from Espanyol, dictated proceedings as Betis were robbed of a point by a late Isco header at the Bernabeu.

Salva Sevilla was then sublime as they dominated Valencia a few weeks later, and they became the first side to beat Villarreal in Week 7. Things weren’t amazing, but there was plenty of reasons to seek encouragement from a side still finding its feet and getting acquainted with each other.

After that win against Villarreal, things took a nose-dive, though. Rumblings of discontent became more evident after a 5-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid in October – their third successive loss – and Mel called a Press conference for the following day. However, anyone expecting his resignation was proved wrong.

“I cannot jump ship,” said the Coach who took over in 2011 and led Betis from Segunda back into Spain’s top flight. “I would be a coward, now I have to work harder. I worked hard to be here, and I want to continue working and rewarding the fans who have never let us down.”

That same week Mel, and two of his squad’s senior players, met with the club’s Ultras to talk about the problems, but results weren’t about to rapidly improve. They played out a 0-0 draw with Levante, before last week’s late defeat to Andalucian rivals Malaga. The timing of Barcelona’s visit, coupled with the Seville derby next weekend, could not have come at a worse time.

Away from their troubles in the League, Betis do top their Europa League group. On Thursday night they had a stoppage time winner of their own from Chuli as they beat Vitoria Guimaraes 1-0 away from home. And while some question the ability of the sides away from Spain’s top three to marry a European campaign with League stability, Betis will have to look to use their Europa League successes as a platform to re-find their form in La Liga.

After Barcelona they face Rayo and Almeria in their next two home games – they couldn’t ask for a more perfect launch pad.