Real Betis, the epitome of entertainment, will be major test for revitalised Real Madrid
There have been goals galore in Betis games this season, at both ends, and Zinedine Zidane's side will have to be wary on Sunday.
If you want entertainment, watch Real Betis. The team who host Real Madrid on Sunday have featuring in league games with the following scorelines this season: 3-6 against Valencia, 4-4 v Real Sociedad and, most notably 5-3 away at their rivals Sevilla last month – the first time they’d scored five there.
The first sign that Real Madrid had a serious problem in the league this season was when they were beaten 1-0 at home by Betis in September. They will want revenge tonight and will be confident after beating Paris Saint-Germain in midweek in the Uefa Champions League, but Betis are impossible to predict.
Tactically astute boss Quique Setien held Madrid twice last season when managing at Las Palmas. In the Bernabeu, Setien kept four of his best attackers on the bench, introducing three as the game wore on.
Wide men Andres Guardado, Ryad Boudebouz came on at half time and then after an hour, until finally captain Joaquin with two minutes to play. The psychological boost was tangible. Betis scored six minutes later, stunning the home crowd.
But which Betis will turn up tonight? Betis played well against Barcelona last month but fell apart at the end and lost 5-0. They were atrocious at Eibar in November and lost 5-0. They played well at Villarreal but lost 3-1 back in September, then they won their next three games.
If nothing else, expect entertainment. Joaquin is the star but local young midfielder Fabian, 22, is making fans forget about losing Dani Ceballos to Madrid before this season. Ceballos, who has featured too little, would have been better staying where he was truly appreciated a season longer.
Mexican veteran Guardado, 32, has been solid while Moroccan Zouhair Feddal was playing well in central defence until picking up a serious injury in last week’s win at desperate Deportivo La Coruna.
The winner there was scored by another local boy Loren, a 24-year-old striker who was with the B team in Spain’s regional fourth division until two weeks ago. He’s started in two games and scored three goals in two wins. Even Lionel Messi does not boast that striker rate in the Primera Liga.
Betis do rack up the dream come true football stories with frequency, though their fans know that life as a Betico is a roller coaster.
The club have not won a trophy since a Copa del Rey win in 2005. They have only won three in their entire history including the one title under Irishman Patrick O’Connell in 1934, but their fans remain among the most passionate and numerous in Spain.
Real Betis are Spain’s fourth best-supported club this season with an average crowd of 46,059, a number which will increase after Sunday’s visit for Real Madrid. There are a handful of tickets left - Betis’ Benito Villamarin stadium was expanded in in time for this season and now seats 60,700. It is impressive, with three sweeping tiers of green seats and the image of a victorious Betis player picked out in white.
It is no folly either, for Betis have the support to justify their huge home. Gates have risen by 40 per cent - a sharp contrast to Barcelona, the team above them who’ve seen a drop of 29 per cent - and 14,000 more people are watching every Betis game than their more successful neighbours, Sevilla.
Betis’s lowest crowd on a Monday night in January surpasses Sevilla’s highest. Sevilla have won 10 trophies in the last 12 years, Betis have won none.
Betis are eighth, only three places off their neighbours Sevilla in sixth and a prized European spot. It is a big improvement over 15th last season, but while Betis have scored more goals than Atletico Madrid in second, they have also conceded more goals than bottom placed Malaga. That is entertainment.
Updated: February 17, 2018 04:07 PM