Real Betis’ relegation from La Liga last season was an absolute shambles, finishing a massive 15 points from safety in the end. Down long before the season’s climax, the club are now making waves in La Segunda and look to be heading back to the big time.
To bounce straight back up to La Liga is uncommon, although Deportivo did manage the feat last season as runners-up to Eibar. Yet looking further down this season’s table, we see many ex-Primera Liga sides squandering such as Mallorca, Racing Santander and Osasuna in 17th, 18th and 19th respectively.
Having suffered a 14 match winless streak last season and already sacked two coaches this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking Betis were bound to struggle. However, with eight games to play, Los Verdiblancos sit proudly top of the league with a six point advantage over second placed Sporting Gijon. Here are three reasons why they have made such an impact in the Segunda.
Pepe Mel – Betis Legend
Mel endured a torrid time at West Brom last season, just about keeping the Baggies in the Premier League, but has proven his managerial credentials again with Betis. Spanish football is where Mel belongs having seen his stock rise from taking Betis into La Liga in 2011, and is set to repeat the trick four years on.
Appointed in December with the club in sixth position after sacking Julio Velazquez, Mel guided Betis on a run that has yet to come to a finite end. The Andalucians have lost just once in 18 matches under Mel, winning 11 of those and currently enjoying a four-match winning run after stuffing play-off chasing Zaragoza 4-0 on Sunday.
These players are arguably still his own as his re-appointment came almost 12 months after his sacking, and has provided a real platform for his side to take the division by storm!
Goalscoring partnership of Ruben Castro and Jorge Molina
This partnership is nothing new having played together since Betis’ last stint in the Segunda, and has proven too good once again for second-tier defences. These two have contributed 35 goals this season, over half of Betis’ total, regularly combining to great effect.
Against Zaragoza on Sunday the pair were in sync, each grabbing braces in the 4-0 success. Their link-up play has been top notch and helped the club become joint-top scorers in the division this season. Castro, 33, is currently tied for the league’s golden boot with 20 goals, whilst Molina sits further back on 12. However, the pair have scored 152 times in almost five seasons together – rare and vital longevity at the top level!
The imposing 52,000 seater Benito Villamarin was a fearsome venue to visit even when Betis weren’t doing so well in La Liga, and has proven to be a nightmare for visiting sides this year. Although defeats have come against Leganes, Alaves and Albacete, Betis have won almost every other one of their 17 matches at home this season, drawing just twice. In that sequence there have been nine clean sheets, much owed to the consistency of ex-Real Madrid keeper Antonio Adan, proving it to be the toughest place to score in Spain.
Since Mel has guided Betis on their supreme streak, they’ve won 7 of 9, scored 22 and kept five shutouts. Mel has built on the club’s strengths, and even when half-full/empty, the Benito Villamarin is a place that still conjures fear in opposing teams.