In a clash of two sides having markedly different, yet equally surprising La Liga campaigns, Real Betis travelled to Granada. Continuing their dreadful start to the season, Betis were beaten 1-0. This tactical analysis will investigate how the Nazaríes’ press nullified Real Betis’ attack as well as created the only goal of the match. The analysis will also identify why Betis’ tactics failed to help them break down their obstinate foes.
Diego Martínez sent his Granada side out to play their favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. He made a few changes to the side that beat Osasuna. Germán Sánchez returned from suspension at centre-back. The front four was also rotated. Darwin Machís came into the side, which moved Álvaro Vadillo to the right flank. Ramon Azeez replaced Roberto Soldado, which pushed Carlos Fernández from attacking midfield to striker.
Rubi made several changes to the Betis side that lost to Real Sociedad. He changed the formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1. He made three changes in defence, with Emerson, Zouhair Feddal and Alfonso Pedraza all being handed a starting berth. Cristian Tello replaced Joaquín, whilst Andrés Guardado was restored to the lineup.
Real Betis’ attacking structure
Though nominally playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, Real Betis’ attacking structure was commonly a 3-5-2. This was achieved by dropping Javi García or Sergio Canales into the backline. Canales was the most common choice. This left García as the pivot. Nabil Fekir would normally move into the right half-space, whilst Guardado would come inside to the left half-space. The full-backs, Emerson and Pedraza would add width.
However, it wasn’t a normal 3-5-2 with two more central strikers. Instead, Cristian Tello would stay wide, creating a lopsided 3-5-2 that did have the potential to create wide overloads down the right flank. As a result of this, 45% of Betis’ attacks came down the right-hand side, per WhoScored.
However, Betis were largely unable to create any dangerous attacks against their opponents, despite enjoying 64% possession. They failed to record a shot on target in twelve attempts, two-thirds of which were from outside the penalty area. As a result, Betis only mustered an xG of 0.33 per Infogol. This was largely due to their poor spacing, painfully slow ball movement, and Granada’s own defensive structures.
Granada’s press and Betis’ problems
Granada pressed high up the field in a 4-4-2 shape. Before Betis got into their 3-5-2 shape in build-up, this would involve pressing Betis’ centre-backs with their own front two. Behind them, the Betis double pivot was often pressed either by Granada’s own double pivot or one member of the double pivot and a wide midfielder. Otherwise, they used their wide midfielders to screen passes into the half-spaces and wide to the full-backs. Machís and Vadillo had to be very disciplined positionally. Granada made it very difficult for Betis to get passes through to Fekir, who was playing as a number 10 before Betis could flex into their 3-5-2 shape.
When Betis did get into their 3-5-2 structure, the focus of Granada’s press changed little. The front two were still responsible for the first line of Betis players. Granada’s central midfielders were still responsible mostly for the two members of Betis’ reconstituted midfield three playing as a duo. This left the pivot free. However, Azeez and Fernández worked incredibly hard to prevent Betis making their 4v2 overload in deep areas show. By positioning themselves effectively, they screened the pivot as well as shepherding the ball towards the sideline, cutting off the free men.
If the ball could be passed into the single pivot, they were often in a position to pressure him. García’s press resistance was poor and he was always conservative with the ball when pressed. Granada had clearly seen this. As such, they were content to give Betis the overload in those areas, knowing they had bodies deeper if Betis were able to progress and they could still cause Betis problems. Most of the time, this pressure forced the ball backwards. On other occasions, it resulted in turnovers of possession. One of those led to the only goal of the game.
Betis really lacked aggression from deep, whilst their spacing was often very poor. Their midfielders would regularly be a long way from the back three, forcing the defence into speculative passes or to play it long. Furthermore, the back three were generally unwilling to step up into space in front of them. They normally failed to reduce the distances between their players and failed to draw Granada players out of their shape. When they did do so, they threatened.
Nabil Fekir – Real Betis’ only threat
Rubi may need to start considering asking Fekir to contribute much more in deeper areas. Betis’ struggles to progress from deep have not been limited to this clash. Those struggles have been a major part of their offensive issues, as Betis are increasingly a side capable of possessing but not progressing the ball.
Fekir was their main ball progressing threat and Betis had most of their joy when he picked the ball up in deep positions (or when he combined with Emerson and Tello on the right). He was willing to play much closer to Granada’s midfield. This forced a midfielder to attempt to close him down rather than allowing a striker to get back at him. Furthermore, he had the press resistance to elude that pressure, before progressing the ball on to a player in a better position.
Additionally, he showed his quality when Betis did establish themselves deeper in Granada’s half. Whether he was beating opposition players, threading balls through the defence or himself making runs in behind, Fekir was the only Betis player who looked capable of influencing the game positively.
Granada’s tactics worked well to completely nullify Betis’ attacking threat. By pressing Betis high and trusting their strikers to hassle Betis’ deeper players, they prevented Betis from progressing the ball despite all their possession. Granada’s pressing also created opportunities for themselves off turnovers, including their only goal of the game.
Rubi meanwhile will have serious concerns about his side’s ability to create chances. His defence and midfield mostly lacked quality and ambition. Only Fekir offered a dangerous penetrative threat. Against teams who are willing to give his side a 4v2 overload at the back it is clear that he requires more from the two spare men to get his team moving forwards. Only time will tell if he finds a solution.
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