Real Betis moved closer to their dreams of European qualification on Monday night as they beat Levante 2-0 away from home. Two unfashionable goals from a fashionable team; but Quique Setien’s side will be delighted to move within three points of neighbours Sevilla. Levante supporters displayed their unhappiness as they waved their white handkerchiefs following Monday’s defeat at home. Fabian Ruiz was best player on the field again as he clocked up 100 accurate passes along with making five tackles.
Real Betis, having looked like they had settled on a 4-3-3, have now changed their formation twice in their last three games. They started this game against Levante with a 4-4-2. It was also the first time that saw summer signing Ryad Boudebouz start in a wide position.
This 4-4-2 formation was matched by the hard working Levante team. With Real Betis trying to get their two full backs as far up the field as possible, Levante’s wingers were required to work back a lot. They showed no issue in doing this however and stifled Betis attacking play.
Aissa Mandi came close to scoring on the 7th minute following a ball over the top from a Boudebouz free kick. The centre back was only able to turn his volley over the crossbar however.
Shortly after, Antonio Adan forced himself into making a double save. His poor clearance fell to the feet of Cheick Doukoure, he fed Armando Sadiku where his shot was saved by Adan. Jose Luis Morales followed up only to see his shot turned away for a corner by Adan.
Even though the structural set up by Betis was different in their 4-4-2, some principles were still persisted with. As with their 4-3-3, the two wingers are encouraged to drift into the half-spaces. This encouraged the full backs to provide width. The main trouble for Betis in this game is that there was one less player coming through from midfield where Fabian or Guardado would normally be.
Levante tried their best to curtail Betis playing their free flowing football and succeeded in their own third. This may have a lot to do with why Betis’ 4-4-2 appeared less effective. The home side set up with two banks of four with little space between the defence and midfield when defending.
When attacking, Levante lacked any control for the majority of the first half. Where they did find some fortune was by pressing up high on Betis starting attacks from deep. Levante would have found encouragement in this aspect from Eibar’s performance against Los Verdiblancos where they won 5-0 earlier in the season.
Roger saw his back heeled flick from a Morales cross go narrowly wide on the 28th minute. This was following a great counter attacking run from Morales where he outpaced both Francis and Mandi before finding his striker.
Looking at this performance by Levante, it is easy to see why they have 11 draws so far this season. Their structured defence is clearly difficult to break down. There is also a clear indication from this game to why they are stuck in a relegation fight – they struggle to score and carve out clear cut chances.
On the 53rd minute, Real Betis and Joaquin should have made it 1-0 to the away side. Following a period where it looked like Adan would struggle to find a teammate, Betis sprung a counter attack. Sergio Leon played a ball beyond the Levante defence where Joaquin raced onto. The 36 year old’s finish was poor however and Oier Olazabal dealt with the situation comfortably.
Two minutes later, Fabian’s strike from the edge of the box was blocked and went for a corner. In the following set piece, chaos ensued. Having made an initial decent save following a deflection from his teammate, Oier could only look on as Chema headed into his own net. This was under strong pressure from Javi Garcia where it was argued he pushed the centre back. The goal stood all the same. Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Levante saw their best chance cleared off the line by Aissa Mandi from a quick corner in the 68th minute. Even quicker than that, Real Betis scored their second. From the goal kick, Adan played a long ball up field to Sergio Leon to run onto. The Spaniard raced onto the ball and finished into the right hand bottom corner. Very unlike Real Betis’ style of play; but the space was available and was taken full advantage of. Levante 0-2 Real Betis
In the final 20 minutes, Real Betis had several opportunities for counter attacks. The reason these opportunities were not converted into chances and goals was due to poor final passes. Levante became lazy and frustrated in defence and even recorded three yellow cards in that time.
For Real Betis, they will be very happy taking away all three points from their trip to Valencia. Quique Setien may want to reconsider playing 4-4-2 for the remainder of the season however. The normal fluidity of play from Betis wasn’t evident and would be more comfortable with an extra midfielder. Los Verdiblancos now sit in seventh position and the European dream is still alive.
The home side should be encouraged by their first half defensive performance. It has been evident all season that Juan Ramon Muniz’ side are defensively sound. Jose Luis Morales was easily the best player for Levante on Monday night and could have done with extra support out wide from his full back. Should Levante begin to score more, they should have enough to stay up this season. They don’t look like it at this moment however and lie one point outside the relegation zone.