It’s not often that a fanatical, long-suffering fanbase can enjoy a state of nirvana and glee at the same time, but that’s the privileged position Real Betis supporters find themselves in at the moment.
Just in case these are unfamiliar words, Nirvana is “an idyllic state or place,” while Schadenfreude is the German word to describe the malicious joy one takes in another’s misfortune. The reason betikos experiencing such happiness is having their team unbeaten at the top of LaLiga, playing magic and brimming with competitive aggression, just as their hated, hugely successful city rivals Seville stinks in 15th place. As fate would have it, there is an instant litmus test for what is sick Los Rojiblancos and whether Betis can sail on when Sevilla take on Barcelona this weekend and Manuel Pellegrini’s green-and-white army take on Spanish and European champions Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
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It’s only hypothetical of course, but imagine the sweet feeling for Betis nation if Xavi’s resurgent Barca won at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday night, leaving Sevilla close to the relegation zone, and if Betis also won at the newly renovated Bernabeu unbeaten Madrid ? And before you start, hold on to your horses: it’s not that the unlikely scenario.
Did you know that Madrid haven’t won any of their last five home games against Betis and have only scored one goal? once in those 450 minutes, and that Los Verdiblancos scored nine of the last 15 available points at the Bernabeu?
Conclusion? Don’t miss Saturday’s game.
– Stream LIVE: Real Madrid vs. Real Betis, 9/3, 10am ET, ESPN+
– Stream LIVE: Sevilla vs. Barcelona, 9/3, 3pm ET, ESPN+
Of course, at the heart of what happens at this extremely passionate (but underperforming) club is their coach. Pellegrini – nicknamed ‘The Engineer’ and five seasons successful at Villarreal since 2004 – is tall and stern and constantly shows his poker face to the world. He is talented, personable and interesting. And don’t forget: he’s not just the ex-Madrid manager, he’s the man Karim Benzema trained with in his first season Los Blancosone which ended with Pep Guardiola’s first sentence as title-winning coach in the Camp Nou press conference read: ‘I want to congratulate Manuel Pellegrini and his players at Real Madrid because I have admired their attitude this season. Without them, I put it on “I don’t think we would have scored 99 points. Their game and the way they played made a tribute to the Real Madrid institution. I want them to know that at this club There are people who admire what they’ve tried. It’s been exemplary.”
No one in Madrid agreed, however, and although Pellegrini held that title fight to the last day of the season, he was sacked after a year in office. He’s had other successes since then – with Malaga, Manchester City and West Ham among his former clubs in Europe – but this project at Betis could well be his trademark.
Their Copa de Rey win last season, achieved in a gargantuan, tense and atmospheric clash against Valencia in the Verdiblancos’ hometown of Seville, was only their second trophy (depending on whether you count the second tier) in 45 years. Almost as fundamental is the fact that Betis are playing well. Very good. Convincing, fun, courageous, attacking football: you could say they are “exemplary” again.
Last Friday they topped LaLiga with a win against Osasuna. The two highlights were Borja Iglesias’ world-class goal – I would argue there hasn’t been a better goal anywhere in Europe this weekend – and the utter chaos when Pellegrini’s team was reduced to 10 men after a German Pezzella red card . Instead of expressing panic, the stadium erupted in a frenzied display of deafening, raucous “we-see-you-through-the-guys!” They sang, cheered and danced as they urged the outnumbered Betis to defend their one-goal advantage.
It worked too as they lasted the last 15 minutes and took all three points.
Borja Iglesias gives Real Betis the lead.
In any sport, it can be life-enhancing to witness when you get from the athletes a fusion of talent, tactics, and determination, as well as passionate evangelical faith and joy from the crowd. For his part, Pellegrini finds it easy to explain his formula.
“At Betis I wanted to establish a certain style of football, like I’ve done at every club,” he said. “I like it when my teams play fast, direct and possession football. I want them to get out of their own half with as few touches as possible. The last third is then all about taking our chances, a lot of work to get that last third which you really have to take advantage of by tucking the ball away.
Commendable to strive for and difficult to achieve, but it’s really beautiful to behold.
One of his capricious tricks is that you can pick six or seven of Pellegrini’s most important footballers and conclude without hesitation not only that they are playing the best football of their career, but that they have achieved that benchmark since the 67-year-old Chilean took over.
Nabil Fekir was one of those valuable players who mistakenly believed that talent and outrageous chutzpah would be enough to make him special. Now the Frenchman is leaner, more muscular and far more effective. He’s also a lot wealthier, having earned a hefty contract extension. The Betis fans would walk over hot coals for him; to them he is a deity. There’s your Pellegrini influence.
Center forward Iglesias suddenly scores again for fun. He admitted after beating Osasuna that “I’m in the best shape of my career” and that the man known as “El Panda” now has that infectious smile permanently on his face. At this point, it’s not outrageous to assume he has a chance to travel to the 2022 World Cup with Spain later this year.
How about Alex Moreno, their flying full-back? Or free scoring Juanmi? How about Guido Rodriguez, who arrived as a shy Argentine midfielder who couldn’t imagine playing alongside Lionel Messi for the national team one day but who is now a central figure for the national team Albiceleste and a winner of the Copa America? All of these guys and a few others are reaching new heights thanks to Pellegrini’s teaching.
As The Engineer himself points out, “A team is made up of individual players, and each has a maximum level they can aim for. My job is to make sure every player gives their best in as many games as possible. A team, it’s no good if the four up front are brilliant if the four at the back are struggling.
“It’s not just my love of football that drives me. It’s the need to be constantly challenged. I’ve always been like that. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to take on new challenges and I’ve done that throughout my career For example: when I left Madrid offers poured in, many from top-tier clubs, but I chose Malaga because I was so impressed by the club’s vision and ambition and because I knew it was going to be a big challenge . It was probably the best decision of my life.”
Now for some home truths about the team who will be looking to upset the European champions this weekend.
Their roster is too thin in certain areas to win the title. With a busy domestic season and a Europa League campaign to plan, it will be a great achievement if they make it into the top six, let alone top four, and qualify for the Champions League. So I guess the key is that we just sit back and enjoy watching them while things are going well.
For example, try watching their midfield anchor: it’s a delight. William Carvalho is constantly referred to as a “big salary,” someone who “needs to be outsourced” to “balance the books.” It’s true that the Portugal midfielder was overweight for much of his time at green-and-white, a bit slow at close range and his physical condition left him prone to annoying recurring injuries.
However, now he’s a key reason for Betis feeling that sense of nirvana. He’s lighter (losing about five or six kilos), plays elegant, fun and determined football. You can start to understand who he considers his reference players.
Carvalho says he compares himself to “Yaya Toure and others like Patrick Vieira, Sergio Busquets or Andrea Pirlo. I also loved Zinedine Zidane, although he didn’t have the same position as mine. I always try to simplify football: difficult things easy to transform. I’m like a compass and I decide: ‘Now the team goes to the right, to the left.’ I set the pace of the game.”
Betis director of football Antonio Cordon recently confirmed that “the main task we had with William Carvalho was to ‘recover’ him. It was a very important process for everyone and we can finally see what he is capable of . He is it.” a real asset.” As long as he’s fit and selected to start, it will be interesting to see this new version of Carvalho – he’s been involved in two draws and one win in his last three away games in Madrid – against Los Blancos now where the wily Casemiro is has departed and Aurelien Tchouameni seems to find life in LaLiga so easy.
Pellegrini has explained of his midfield giant: “A squad without William Carvalho is definitely worse than a squad with William Carvalho, I have no doubt about that. I have no interest in William leaving. I have a lot of things that push me into him entangle.” because I ask a lot of him and I won’t stop until William gives what he is capable of.”
Bet on Real Betis and roll at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/real-betis-espbetis_sevilla/story/4732989/real-betis-are-soaring-in-laliga-thanks-to-manuel-pellegrini-and-his-team-of-transformed-talents Real Betis are soaring in LaLiga thanks to Manuel Pellegrini and his team of transformed talents