“I don’t know if my players are good or if my players are bad, all I know is that they are my players and I have to pick them up” said a dejected Pepe Mel after he had watched his Real Betis side dismantled against Sevilla. He had just had to watch Sevilla’s indulge in the 4-0 thrashing with their fans who chanted “Let Pepe Mel jump” around the Sanchez Pijuan and the 2.1 mile journey back to the Villamarin would have felt like the longest of journeys as, in another fact Sevilla’s faithful were quick to point out, Betis were heading to the Segunda.
All the work Mel has done to get Betis back to La Liga is quickly being eroded. After promotion in his first year, mid-table in his second and Europa League qualification in his third, the Verdiblancos sit rock bottom after 14 games of his fourth year in charge. They are now on a run of seven games without a win, they have shipped 28 goals and injuries have torn through Mel’s plans. They were without seven players for the Seville derby and 26 different players have already been used as the manager stumbles aimlessly in search of a cohesive unit.
Centre-half Damien Perquis faces a long absence after breaking his jaw in Malaga while Mel has also been robbed of his top-scorer of last season, attacking midfielder Ruben Castro, after he was injured against Celta Vigo in August.
A rare bright spot came when he returned to action as a 60th minute substitute against Sevilla though it came just as Vitolo had struck the game’s third goal. “I had doubts about there being an offside before the third goal, but apparently not,” lamented Mel,“when it came to showing cards they all seemed to be towards us.”
The game was done before the third goal though and there was a distinct air of redundancy about him complaining about Vitolo’s strike. The home side had taken the lead within 2 minutes through Carlos Bacca and then, on 42 minutes, Paulao was sent off for a second bookable offence. “Paulao is a player who is old enough to know that he has made a mistake,” noted Mel.
“It was an error a child could have made. I felt that between the first and second goals we were starting to get back into the game, but that killed us” From the resultant free-kick Stephane Mbia headed home the second to make sure there was no signs of life.
Such was the atmosphere in the early stages that Bacca said “I’d never seen anything quite like it” whilst his manager Unai Emery said “the fans pushed the first goal in”. With Sevilla having come into a run of only 2 defeats in their last 8 following their own slow start to the season, the home fans were electric and Betis resembled a vulnerable rabbit in the headlights. The 5-0 crushing at Athletico Madrid still lingers, as does the 0-0 draw with Levante and the 3-2 defeat in Malaga to a 94th minute goal.
They succumbed to Barcelona by 4 goals to 1 despite playing well, confidence is brittle and Sevilla, at the scene of last year’s 5-1 demolition job in the same fixture, ruthlessly preyed on their nearest rivals. Vicente Iborra’s goal to complete the rout with 2 minutes remaining provided a mere footnote.
One wonders whether Mel, an amiable coach who won a lot of plaudits for the stylistic approach his side adopted upon returning to La Liga, will have the time to survey the wreckage and turn the Verdiblancos, stranded at the bottom by 3 points, back on to steadier waters. He will surely be reassured by the words of his club president Miguel Guillen who said just 2 weeks ago that “I’m sure the situation will be reversed”. ”
In the last two games there has been an important reaction and, regardless of the results that have not followed, that is the way to go. We need a couple of good results to reverse the situation and recover maximum confidence. The coach has all the support. Assessing things midseason is useless. We are in November and the competition is a marathon.”
Just a week before his presidential backing, in the aftermath of the 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Athletico, he had been forced to call a press conference where he admitted he would have been a coward and a “bad Betico” had he waved the white flag and resigned.
He had asked fans to come in person to a training session the following day only to see a group of dissenting voices vent their anger on the manager and the team. Mel said the following day that he and his squad captains were coerced into talking with them as emotions threatened to spill over.
It all hinted at mutiny and although Mel survived that round, it remains to be heard, or seen, the mood of Betis’ radical Supporters South group with the wretched form continuing and the goals still leaking regularly. Perhaps defender Antonio Amaya gave an insight when he reacted “I feel annoyed and all I can do is say sorry to the fans,” as he and his colleagues trudged off the pitch on Sunday evening.
Mitigation may come for Mel in the defence of his horrible luck with injuries or the fact the spine of last year’s side has disappeared in Canas, Benat Exteberria and Ruben Perez. Around £4 million was reinvested in 14 players but a large amount of time is needed for that amount of new faces to settle.
They have shown they can do it, Salva Sevilla led a magnificent 3-1 home win over Valencia while Jorge Molina has netted 5 times. The trouble is the lack of performances throughout the squad, they have only managed 12 goals and Sevilla and Molina account for 7 of those, only Osasuna and Grenada have a worse record in front of goal.
“What worries me now is raising the heads of my sporting family. Those are the ones that will get Betis out of this, nobody else. We have to get back up because in seven days we play Rayo. I’m looking past Thursday’s [Europa League] game because we must now concentrate on that” said Mel, putting Sunday evening behind him as he looks towards the future.
With a squad of just 25 players being stretched to the scarcest of resources by injury and a fixture list that has seen them already play 20 matches, it is unlikely to be a bright one for Mel. The longest serving manager in La Liga may not last much longer.