With Barcelona having been so dominant in La Liga this season – going all but one game unbeaten – they may seem like the obvious choice for team of the season. Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid dominated in Europe also. They have already won their titles however. This title was viewed in terms of entertainment and high quality of football played across the 38 games in La Liga. With that in mind, Real Betis were always going to be the only winner.
Playing free flowing attacking football, Quique Setien’s side captured the imagination of Spanish football supporters from the off. After a similar season with Las Palmas last year, it was hoped such an outcome would come about with Real Betis. La Liga News’ Manager of the Year certainly didn’t let us down.
Some of their games have been extraordinary this season, including a 4-0 win, a 4-4 draw and a 6-3 loss to Valencia in game of the season – one game after the other. This was mixed in with a 5-0 loss to Eibar, 5-3 loss to Cadiz, 5-0 loss to Barcelona and a 5-3 loss to Real Madrid. The big results didn’t always go against Betis however. They did manage to beat neighbours Sevilla 5-3 along with beating Real Madrid in the Bernabeu 1-0 among a multitude of other goalfests.
What led to Real Betis being involved in so many games with so many goals was down to how Quique Setien set them out to play. Starting out with a 4-3-3 formation, Los Verdiblancos were the most fluid team in Europe where there was little restriction on them going forward. They dominated the ball in midfield with Andres Guardado, Javi Garcia and Fabian Ruiz. The two full backs, usually Riza Durmisi and Antonio Barragan offered width, while the ‘wingers’ played more like number tens as they filled the ‘half-space’. The biggest issue for Betis in having so many players going forward however, was how slow they were transitioning from attack to defence. Often, Zou Feddal and Aissa Mandi were left isolated in two v two or even three v two situations at times.
Because of this fluid approach, the Andalusian outfit saw the fourth most goals of any side in La Liga with 121 goals scored (60) and conceded (61). This works out at an average of 3.18 goals per game. Had it not been for a change in formation toward the end of January, this average would have been much higher. The introduction of Marc Bartra into the side solidified Real Betis’ back line an untold amount. Come March – when the team had fully adjusted to the new 5-3-2 formation – they went six games in a row without conceding – the only team in Europe to do so all season. Click HERE for a tactical explanation of Real Betis before the introduction of Marc Bartra.
One of the stand out themes under Setien this season – other than the free flowing football – has been the emergence of young and previously unknown players to the first team. Francis, Junior Firpo and Loren Moron have all performed admirably when called upon. However, Fabian Ruiz has been the stand out performer out of these youth products. The 22 year old has really filled the void after Dani Ceballos left for Real Madrid. After excelling with Elche the season before in La Liga 123, Fabian was earmarked as a first team player. Setien’s use of the midfielder has led him to being a transfer target for top European clubs including Barcelona and Real Madrid. In order to bat them off, Betis were forced to give Fabian a new contract mid season which included an improved buy-out clause of €30 million. The young Spaniard’s performances have been so good this season however that this is still great value for money. His dominance on the ball is exemplary and he even managed to clock up 100 accurate passes in one game against Levante. Fabian has since gone on to claim that Quique Setien was a deciding factor in him remaining with the club.
Even though it had very little to do with the performance of the team itself, the Real Betis supporters were undoubtedly one of the highlights of the season. The Estadio Villamarin was one of the broadcasters favourite venues this season, as the home support created a tremendous atmosphere for every game. Real Betis played on Monday night 11 times this season yet, the home support was never effected. The Andalusian side had the biggest increase in attendance this season with an overall growth of 19,319 and regularly packed over 40,000 into the Villamarin on a Monday night.
The heightened atmosphere at the Villamarin was simply an addition to the great football on show by our team of the season. With Quique Setien bringing his team into European football next season – while being crowned Manager of the Year along the way – all La Liga fans (except Sevilla ones) will be hoping they can reproduce this magic again next season.