Real Betis have been one of the most entertaining sides in not only Spain, but across Europe this season. What has made them so intriguing and desirable to watch orientates around the tactics used by manager Quique Setien.
The Spanish coach was in charge of Las Palmas last season and made them equally entertaining. The use of the 4-3-3 system set the islanders up to play an attacking, ball retaining style with little focus on defending. This format has been transferred to the Andalucian outfit this season also.
Last season, due to Las Palmas’ free flowing attacking structure, their games saw 127 goals scored. This was the fourth highest total; only behind Barcelona’s 153, Real Madrid’s 147 and relegated Osasuna with 134.
This season, Setien’s Real Betis are taking a similar path. Betis’ games have seen 82 goals so far this campaign – the highest total in the league after 22 games.
What way has Setein set up both Las Palmas and Real Betis to result in such free flowing games? Why are they conceding and scoring so many goals and what makes them so attractive to watch? Taking the example of Real Betis from this season, an explanation of this is detailed below.
Firstly, Setien sets his team up in a 4-3-3 formation as displayed in the image below. He uses a defensive midfielder who’s competent on the ball. Last season, Roque Mesa ranked third in La Liga for average number of passes per game with 70.8 and achieved a 91.4% passing accuracy. This season, the veteran Javi Garcia has been deployed in this role for Real Betis. The Real Madrid graduate has completed 91.3% of his attempted passes in La Liga. He was clearly brought in to act as the ‘filter’ for Real Betis in the same way Sergio Busquets is for Barcelona.
An important factor in this set up is having centre backs comfortable playing the ball out from the back. Last season, Pedro Bigas and Mauricio Lemos were the favoured centre backs for Las Palmas where they looked to bring the ball out. This season, Real Betis are having even better success with their centre backs in this regard. Aissa Mandi and Zou Feddal are both very comfortable on the ball, even against high pressing opposition. Mandi has completed 92% of his attempted passes in La Liga so far; this is just 0.2% behind Toni Kroos as the best passer in Spain.
Starting 4-3-3 formation
The reason why these three players need to be so competent on the ball is that their set up leaves these three isolated. When starting attacks from goal kicks, the two centre backs split across the box. The two full backs – normally Antonio Barragan and Riza Durmisi – stay wide and push up near the half way line. Javi Garcia drops and is sometimes joined by Andres Guardado to act as an extra ‘out ball’ for Antonio Adan in goal. Against a high pressing team, this puts a lot of pressure on the Betis defence; which is why it is so important for these players to be so competent on the ball.
Overall this season, Betis have been very successful in navigating their way out of such situations. There have been a number of close calls and worse at times. Iago Aspas’ first goal against Betis two weeks ago was a perfect example of how it can go wrong.
Real Betis attacks normally start with Adan on the ball – not just from goal kicks. Once Betis get control of the ball around the half way line, they have no less than seven players in the opposition half. Barragan and Durmisi push even higher and maintain the width. This allows the two wingers, usually Christian Tello and Joaquin to move more central; occupying the ‘half space’. This is one way where Betis thrive in attack. The extra freedom given to both wingers allows them to drift across the pitch and are extremely difficult for any opposition to contain.
Guardado and Fabian Ruiz normally conduct the attacks from deeper in midfield, with the likes of Camarasa left out. As is evident in the image below, there is a massive imbalance when Real Betis attack as they leave so much space available in their own half for counter attacks. This has been a massive issue for the Andalucian club all season; only Las Palmas and Sevilla have conceded more goals from counter attacks than Betis in La Liga.
In an ideal defensive scenario, Real Betis would line up as the image below suggests. Javi Garcia drops in as a third centre back, as he has done very frequently all season. Barragan and Durmisi fill in the full back positions while Guardado and Fabian occupy the space in front of the newly formed back five.
The major issue for Real Betis all season is their transition from the attacking situation displayed above, to this defensive set up. Generally, they are very comfortable in moving from defensive situations to attacking ones. Setien has clearly undertaken a lot of coaching to ensure the players know where they need to be when working out from the back.
A massive imbalance highlighted here however; there clearly hasn’t been as much work undertaken in transitioning from attack to defence. This season, Real Betis have only defended with this structure for the first 60 minutes against Barcelona. They transitioned well in both directions and allowed Barcelona very few opportunities. After conceding their first goal in that game however, they reverted to default and disbanded this approach. This gave Barcelona the space every other team in La Liga had and ended up scoring five goals in the final 30 minutes of the game.
Real Betis have show in their most recent games against Villarreal and Deportivo they are open to change. In these games, Setien set up his team in a 3-5-2 formation. New signing Marc Bartra added a better structure to their porous defence. This was not only due to his quality, but the addition of an extra defender helped structurally. With Feddal now expected to be out for the remainder of the season, this 3-5-2 formation may not feature again.
Betis have shown – in glimpses – they are capable of defending in a structured environment. When Feddal was out of the side at the start of the season, Betis defence was in free fall. With the introduction of Bartra in January however, the Barcelona graduate will pick up the slack. After playing in a similar style during his time in La Masia, Bartra fit this role perfectly. With Alin Tosca out on loan for the remainder of the season, Real Betis have Mandi, Bartra and Jordi Amat as their only fit centre backs. With that in mind, it is unlikely they will persist with a 3-5-2. Setien opted for this formation against Deportivo on Monday night however but with so few fit centre backs, it would not be advisable.
For Betis to be successful in qualifying for Europe, Setien needs to coach his side into transitioning from attack to the defensive set up illustrated above much more efficiently. As mentioned, they have shown glimpses of being able to orchestrate such; particularly in the first 60 minutes against Barcelona. This game should be a blueprint in how they should approach their remaining 15 La Liga games in order to qualify for European football next season.