Real Betis hosted Valencia at the famous Benito Villamarín in last week’s La Liga round 14 match. Betis manager Rubi has been under great pressure as his talented side has been struggling in the relegation battle. However, the team has improved in recent matches with a switch to the three-man system.
Valencia came into this match after winning the last three games in all competitions. Things have not gone too well under new coach Albert Celades, but their recent form made them the favourites heading into this match. In the end, though, they were deservedly defeated by the mighty Los Verdiblancos.
Real Betis (4-1-4-1): Joel Robles; Álex Moreno, Sidnei, Aïssa Mandi, Emerson; Édgar González; Joaquín, Andrés Guardado, Sergio Canales, Nabil Fekir; Loren Morón.
Valencia (4-4-2): Jasper Cillessen; José Gayà, Eliaquim Mangala, Gabriel Paulista, Jaume Costa; Manu Vallejo, Daniel Wass, Dani Parejo, Ferrán Torres; Maxi Gómez, Rodrigo.
Real Betis in possession
In the initial build-up phase, Betis used a 3-1-4-2. Édgar would drop to become the third centre-back, helping Betis create a numerical advantage over Valencia’s two-man front line. The back three would not stretch wide and shift towards the ball side. Valencia defended in a zonal and compact 4-4-2, but Vallejo would often join the front two to press Mandi. Mandi is a good passer and thus required more attention. Valencia’s front two/three would look for chances to press the opponent’s back three – for example when they receive a back pass.
Canales would drop between the opponent’s first two lines, creating a 3-1 structure with the back three to open a lot of passing lanes. A calm playmaker, he could weather the opponent’s pressing with his quality dribbling and passing. He did a great job of connecting the back three with the likes of Guardado and Fekir, both of whom also dropped deep often to help facilitate the short build-up.
After getting past the opponent’s first line of press, Canales and Fekir would try to occupy pockets of space between the lines. Loren would also drop deep to connect with the midfield.
Betis’ two full-backs operated quite differently. While Emerson positioned himself conservatively, Moreno constantly bombed forward and looked more like a wing forward. The image below is both their heat map ‘s from the game.
Betis used a 3-4-3 formation in attack. Of the double pivot, Canales roamed higher and everywhere to help link-up play, while Guardado would stay deeper to provide cover. The two wingers, Joaquin and Fekir were on their “wrong” side, and thus would naturally move inward. They helped pull Valencia’s shape narrow and opened up a lot of space for Moreno, who was Betis’ main attacking threat. The former Rayo Vallecano man registered 84 touches, the highest of the night.
The key reason why Moreno got a lot of the ball needs a complex explanation. As mentioned, Valencia’s left-winger Vallejo often moved high to press Mandi. Emerson’s conservative positioning meant he was often a good option to help Betis escape Valencia’s first line of pressing. To maintain the press, Gayà would move high to close down Emerson. The whole Valencia defence had to shift left as a result. After passing around a bit to make this happen, Betis would then switch play towards their left for Moreno, who now had a lot of space to operate.
When having the ball on the flank, Moreno would often use his devastating pace and dribbling to beat his man and get crosses into the box. He also got a lot of help from the evergreen Joaquín – he’s not too quick anymore, but his feints and shoulder drops helped him send crosses in. Joaquín and Moreno were the most prolific crossers of the night. They were also the best key pass creators: eight for Joaquín, and four for Moreno.
The duo also combined to help Betis get the equaliser. Mandi tried to launch an attack right from the build-up phase with a switch of play towards his left, where Moreno once again had space to dribble. Ferran was trying to keep the midfield shape and thus was in the half-space; in addition, Moreno was in a higher starting position. The left-back burst forward and beat Costa, and then sent a low cross towards Joaquín, who had then moved into the box. Joaquín then finished it wonderfully.
However, in large parts of this match, Betis struggled to create real danger in the final third. They had a quality build-up scheme but didn’t have the right attacking plans to get past Valencia’s 4-4-2. 54% of their attack occurred on the left, where Canales and Fekir often overloaded to feed chief attacker Moreno and Joaquín. They relied heavily on individual efforts by the likes of Moreno and Fekir.
Betis generally built up slowly and gradually pushed their whole shape forward. Therefore, they often forced Valencia players deep into their own box. Betis mostly attacked with crosses. When a cross was about to be sent, the ball-far wing players would move central to crowd the box and instantly counter-press upon Betis’ turnover.
Most of the time, a Valencia player would clear the ball, and Betis would recover possession. In other cases, most Valencia players were in the box and surrounded by nearby Betis players. The away side would counter-press heavily in these situations. The likes of Guardado and Canales would lurk right in front of the box to win the second balls or stop quick counters through the centre. The side tended to commit tactical fouls when necessary.
As we mentioned earlier, Valencia defended in a zonal 4-4-2. They would try to stay compact and block passes through the centre. In Betis’ build-up phase, the Valencia midfielder nearest to the ball-carrier would step out to close him down.
Valencia’s narrow shape would force Betis wide. The home side players would then instantly run to overload the ball side. Here, Valencia wingers were both on the same side, and Valencia’s numbers on this flank made it very hard for Betis to progress.
Valencia in possession
Like Betis, Valencia would try to build from the back. Betis aimed to disrupt Valencia’s goal kicks by pressing high with a 4-1-2-3 formation out of possession, with Canales and Guardado marking Valencia’s double pivot. Their front three would stay in the middle at first. When the opponent’s keeper pass to a centre-back on either side, the forward in the middle would close him down, the ball-near winger would run towards the ball-near full-back, while the ball-far winger marked the other centre-back.
That’s exactly what happened in the below example when Mangala received the ball from the keeper.
Betis’ front three’s narrow positioning would force Valencia to go wide. When they do so, the Betis players would overload that area. Here, we see Emerson moving up high to help overload.
During these situations, Valencia’s double pivot would overload the area to help the side escape Betis’ pressing. That Valencia is a side with great pressing resistance meant they often did so successfully. Betis would then retreat but still keep the 4-1-2-3 shape.
After getting past the high press, Valencia would attack in a 4-4-2 formation. Their shape shifted to the right to feed Ferran, their most important player in attack. Left-winger Vallejo played on his weaker side and would often move centrally. Rodrigo roamed to link-up play and would mostly play on the right-wing to help Ferran or send a cross into the box.
Ferrán is a promising youngster with great passing and dribbling. He was virtually their only offensive spark. In the opening goal, he dribbled past both Moreno and Guardado to get into the box, and then assisted Maxi.
92% of Valencia’s attack in this match occurred on their right. This is understandable as Joaquín and Moreno are bad at defending and often ventured so high up the pitch – and Valencia looked to counter with Ferrán’s pace. However, the away side clearly didn’t show attacking creativity in this match. In addition, their counter-attacking weapon was ineffective due to Betis’ strong counter-pressing.
In the second half, Betis was still the one who dominated possession. They showed great intensity and desire, while Valencia’s counter-attack passing got worse and worse. In the 69th minute, Borja Iglesias replaced the injured Édgar. Guardado played in Édgar’s position, meaning Loren became part of the midfield three. In the new position, Loren’s passing, positioning, defensive awareness and work rate was quite sub-par. Valencia had more opportunities to attack through the middle but failed to create any real danger.
In the 81st minute, Loren was subbed out for left-back Alfonso Pedraza. Joaquín shifted to the right-wing, Moreno finally became the nominal left-winger, and Fekir became a central midfielder. Canales and Fekir’s on-ball quality in the middle of the park helped Betis regained control of the game. They finally got the winner in the dying minutes with a ridiculous Canales free-kick.
In the end, our analysis showed that Betis deserved to win this match. Their build-up and counter-pressing schemes were quite perfect, which ensured their dominance of possession throughout the match. However, they lacked ideas in the final third and mostly created danger through individual brilliance. Overall, the three-man system that consistently featured under Quique Setién has brought them better results.
Meanwhile, Valencia may look back and wish they played better. Their defensive system was good as usual, but they mightily struggled to create chances from counter-attacks or possession play. Los Che have not been consistent under Celades, and clearly haven’t lived up to their potential. They need to step up their game if they want to regain a Champions League spot for next season.
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