Milton Ceita Da Costa
Real Betis : Is There More to This Team ?
Real Betis Balompié opened the 2019/2020 season with much excitement. So far they have been an interesting watch but have not lived up to the hype.
Newly-appointed Rubi has never been one to stay long at a club but surely when he moved to Real Betis after a single season as manager at Espanyol he must have thought that he finally found his home. However, over halfway into the season, questions have been raised of Real Betis and their progression. Betis will hope that Rubi can turn it around, otherwise with the investment and the talent at their disposal, they might decide not to wait to see improvement.
The team has been known to line up in a 4-1-4-1, a 4-2-3-1 and even a back three. They are flexible and Rubi is not afraid to adjust his game. William Carvalho’s injury has been a huge curse for the squad. They’re on pace to score more than last season but they are also on pace to concede more.
Marc Bartra is a deceptive 29 years old but with less tread on the wheels than other players his age. Never completely trusted elsewhere, he has his chance at Real Betis as a starter for a club that wants to be progressive and play attractive football, something that suits him and his footballing upbringing. Although usually lining up with centerback partner Aissa Mandi, his ability on the ball has seen Rubi trust him in a holding midfield role. This is often when William Carvalho has not been available. Carvalho missed over twenty games with a muscle injury suffered in October 2019 before returning in February and playing against Barcelona in the thrilling 2-3 defeat. His absence has been felt ; Betis has lacked his steel, positional intelligence and proactive style. He was an important element in his first season in Seville coming over from Lisbon and Real Betis’ struggles coincide with his absence.
Bartra is the more adventurous and progressive of the two centerbacks but even defensively Mandi has not been up to the level of Bartra. As one of the captains, Mandi’s performances need to improve. Bartra has proven to be a good player but relying on him as the best defender in a team has appeared to be beyond him in his career.
Cristian Tello seemed like a smart pickup when he arrived. He’s a Spanish talent with knowledge of the league and pace and his ability to play on either wing makes some a useful player. He had a decent enough first two seasons with them but has struggled for starts this season and has not had the same impact. As a player off the bench for a competitive club— which in the end might have always been his ceiling— he can be a positive. Right now, however, he has been the worst version of himself.
Joaquín, on the other hand, has been the toast of the LaLiga season and rightfully so. At the age of 38, he has not just turned back the clock, he has shattered it. He has a strong chance of breaking his league goal scoring record for a season (just needs three more). He has become a fantastic addition to the team but his level of on-field influence is concerning for a player so advanced in age. As is Andrés Guardado’s. The Mexican legend, winger-cum-central midfielder plays an important role in central midfield but no longer has the legs to cover the ground as he once did. He makes up for it with tactical intelligence but Carvalho’s absence has made him work harder. Guido Rodriguez has joined from Mexico CF América’s in the winter transfer window and it is to be seen how quickly he can pick up the pace of the Spanish league.
Loren Morón has done well this season and although not prolific or great in possession he scores enough to lessen the burden. He’s done well enough to supposedly be of interest to Barcelona but he has not been so spectacular as to be their main man. He has significantly outperformed fellow striker Borja Iglesias. Iglesias has been a major disappointment coming from Espanyol and his fit does not seem to be quite right for the likes of Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir. He has been a lethal scorer through the divisions of Spain. In fact he had had such a good season with Espanyol in 2018/2019 that it was unsurprising when he joined Rubi Los Verdiblancos. Wheres Nabil Fekir has been a success, however, Borja has failed to light it up. Emerson has been a good signing, particularly offensively, but he may leave in 2021 due to the deal with Barcelona. His fellow fullback Álex Moreno has four assists but could do better in possession and defensively.
Sergio Canales, the former Racing Santader wunderkid and Real Madrid experiment, has grown into a strong attacking midfielder after struggling to find his way through the Spanish first division. His creative load has been lessened by the arrival of Fekir but both his production and performance have decreased. Canales is talented and carries weight in that locker room. He has done well to salvage his career but much more was expected of him this season. The hope is that with the return of Carvalho, the defense will look much stronger but also he will provide a base for the players in front of him. Do you see a pattern here ?
Maybe the makeup of this team, of players who did not quite make the grade elsewhere, is just short of that little bit of quality to put them over the top. Carvalho might be the key element that was missing but that seems like a bit of a stretch for him. His ability and role are important but there is still much missing to the rest of the squad. If he can steady the ship however, Rubi might be given enough time to firmly establish himself with this team.
The addition of Carles Aleñá indicates that Betis wants to continue to control possession and play a possession-based style but could also be a shrewd move for the future. Acquiring him on loan could grease the wheels if Barcelona decide (likely even with Quique Setién’s arrival) to let him leave permanently. He has a lot to prove but will have the opportunity to do so.
Dries Mertens is likely out of their price range and stature even as a free agent but his style of forward would be ideal.
Marcus Thuram would be a great addition. He may need another year of seasoning at at the highest level but if he continues his progression he might end up being out of their price range (he likely already is).
Malang Sarr, young French central defender, is also out of contract this summer but has heavily disappointed after jumping onto the scene with some potential and a great deal of hype in his teenage years. Sarr’s teammate however, Walter Benítez, would be an upgrade in goal and as an Argentine would not need to learn the language.
José Callejón might fancy a return to Spain and although he, like Mertens, would skew the age spectrum higher would be a good acquisition and would add excellent scoring and movement pedigree.
If Real Madrid decide to loan out either of Vinicus, Rodrygo or especially Luka Jović next season, Betis could be in business.
Victor Osimhen and Moussa Dembélé might be expensive and will definitely have more powerful suitors.
Chris Smalling will be available if not bought by AS Roma and although much-maligned would be a good addition if not of the needle-moving kind.
An eye should be kept on the PSG centerbcaks of Presnel Kimpembe, Abdou Diallo and Thilo Kehrer.
If Betis do not mind taking a former Sevilla loanee, Sergio Reguilón would be an excellent addition.
Finally, Donyell Malen might be the best under-the-radar move at forward.
Los Verdiblancos would do well to follow the blueprint of clubs such as Real Sociedad or AS Roma. The Seville club are able to invest and have ambitions to reach higher levels. Those ambitions must be carefully weighed before making decisions. Carvalho and Fekir are the gems in the Betis crown. They have attracted attention before and will surely want to test themselves in European competition once again. If Betis do not improve, the progress the club has made may be quickly squandered.
Real Betis was supposed to be one of the sentimental teams of the year in Europe. This writer certainly thought so and they are indeed entertaining. However, they need a new striker, defensive reinforcements and another starting calibre winger would not hurt. Otherwise, Rubi might be forced to change scenery again but this time not of his volition.