Girona – Real Betis: Betis dominate Girona to claim important away win (0-1)

At last, a goal for Loren Morón helped Real Betis seal a truly dominant win over Girona at the Montilivi. Quique Setién’s tactical changes paid dividends once again as he masterminded a win over Eusebio Sacristán’s men.

Girona fielded three changes from the eleven that started in their 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou on Sunday. One Manchester City loanee was swapped out for another as Aleix García dropped to the bench with Douglas Luiz taking up a starting position. Borja García also stepped into the midfield ahead of Pere Pons. And, at the back, Marc Muniesa was left out at the expense of the talented young wingback, Pedro Porro.

Betis also claimed a 2-2 draw on Sunday, but in a slightly less impressive fashion, dropping points at home to Athletic Club. A complete change in attack was made ahead of tonight’s fixture: Takashi Inui, Loren Morón and Ryad Boudebouz were all given the green light to lead the line with Sergio Canales dropping deeper to pivot with Andrés Guardado.

General movements when Betis was in possession. Ball displayed at feet of centerback Mandi

Battle of the press
Both Girona and Betis made it clear from the opening minute that they each wanted to be aggressive, and force the issue when they were without the ball. One, however, was more successful at both applying and dealing with the high levels of pressure.

Immediately, you could see the difference between the two. Whilst Girona were happy to pump balls long when they were forced back to goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, Betis juxtaposed this with patience, control and calmness in possession.

Though each side was able to press man-for-man in their matching 3-4-2-1 systems, it was Betis’ press that never failed to force their opponents long. And it was Girona’s press that always failed to force the opposition long. At times, Betis did intentionally play that way.

The key problem with Girona’s one way of evading Betis’ press was that they were generally inferior at claiming second balls. Setién’s side are very able to advance or regain possession through winning second balls and this game did not prove different.

The added help for Girona in the form of Borja García, who would often drop in to create a midfield three, was nowhere to be seen. Whilst it could be argued that he was left high up to help win second balls from knockdowns, his offering to the ball in midfield engineered one of Girona’s only openings of the match.

With Borja’s movement drawing out Betis midfielder Sergio Canales, teammate Douglas Luiz was free to receive the ball centrally as he then picked out Cristian Portu. The Spaniard got his head up and almost found an inch-perfect ball onto the back-post for Cristhian Stuani. Unfortunately, it didn’t amount to anything. It was Girona’s first real, and only, breakthrough, coming in the 49th minute.

As for the away side, they were more than content to lure in Girona. And, to anyone familiar with Setién’s Betis, it will hardly come as a surprise that goalkeeper Pau López spent a considerable amount of time with the ball at his feet.

Having drawn in Girona so deep, the attackers moved to stretch the pitch, which meant that the playmakers in midfield, Canales and Guardado, would often have a free run with the ball down the center.

The most notable example of this came in the buildup to the match-winning goal. López’s short pass exchange with Marc Bartra drew in the press from Stuani before Betis’ keeper clipped it into the oncoming Boudebouz. Guardado was first to pounce on the loose ball as Betis moved up the pitch having surpassed the first two lines of Girona pressure. From this point, they worked it wide into Francis Guerrero who delivered the perfect cross right onto the thigh of Loren, who was then able to open the scoring in the 65th minute.

Setién’s 3-4-2-1 allows Betis to take control
There were many facets to Betis’ approach in possession. Although the shape was technically unchanged, the tactics were not.

One of the main features prevalent throughout the match was how the double pivot positioned themselves. Canales, nominally the right-sided central midfielder, would move into the wing-back position out on the right side.

Situation where central midfielder Canales drops out wide to serve as an extra outlet in the build-up

With right wingback Francis pinning back Aday Benítez on the flank, Canales was in open space. Now with Girona at a crossroads, the midfield pairing could either stretch to cover the lanes into the double pivot or they could remain zonally compact. Neither fully stopped the threat it posed.

The most common pattern was for Guardado to move into the centre just as Canales pulled wide. As a result, Betis could access the free man through a wall pass.

On other occasions, Guardado would remain towards the left whilst the inside forwards, Inui and Boudebouz, dropped between the channels to receive and lay off into the surrounding players. In doing so against the man-marking scheme of Girona, they were able to manipulate the home side’s shape in order to isolate certain players.

The visitors managed to exploit this perfectly in the 27th minute as Bartra’s dribble out from the back attracted narrowed pressure from the Girona defensive shape. With the nearby options from Betis coming to the ball, Loren was now isolated against Bernardo Espinosa. Bartra picked the pass and Loren drilled a shot from decent range but at a tight angle.

Betis’ right-sided focus
As shown in the passmap above, Betis’ plan of attack centered around the right flank. This was for a number of reasons.

First, to better locate and play through runs in behind. With left-footers Boudebouz and Canales chopping in from the right, they had a far more comfortable view of their surroundings and a wide range of possibilities with their pass selection.

On the other end, you had the runners themselves. By being positioned towards the left, Inui, Loren and even Júnior Firpo were able to make runs on the blind-side of their markers into the space vacated by Boudebouz’s movements into midfield.

The second reason for the one-sided approach had to do with Betis’ preparedness to counter-press. This season, Setién has turned his side into pressing machines. Their efficiency in regaining possession after a loss of possession has really improved.

By restricting play to one side, it meant that when they lost the ball, the collapsing shape could then close off Girona’s right side and suffocate play towards the left flank. With all access into the center or the opposite side quickly being shut off, Betis established an unparalleled level of control over their opponents. It was relentless.

Coinciding with this, it cut out the threat of Cristian Portu. The dynamic attacker has phenomenal pace and is always a danger no matter who the opposition is. By keeping play to Betis’ right, Girona had no way of finding Portu in space on counter-attacks. Even if a long switch was made into Porro, the visitors had more than enough time to adjust and shut off the lanes into Portu. As a result of this, the attacker only recorded 6 touches in the first half.

Girona almost steal a point
With a 0-1 lead, Betis were content to recycle possession and kill the tempo of the game. This they did well. They even created a couple more chances that could have put the game to bed. The fact they did not became a growing concern in the final minutes of the match.

The visitors had settled into a more passive and zonal 5-4-1 block but were not stopping the flow of crosses entering the box. And, in the time between the goal and now, Seydou Doumbia had come on to help pack out the Betis box.

Had it not been for some incredible individual efforts defensively, the game would have ended all square. The most dramatic of these being López’s superb reaction save to parry away Stuani’s 92nd minute header from point-blank range.

Girona’s manager, Eusebio Sacristán, might be feeling mixed emotions about this one. Having done so well to earn a point away to Barcelona, his side disappointingly, yet deservedly, dropped three points on home turf. It is a result that sees Girona stuck in 12th place, level on eight points with three others.

From Betis’ and Quique Setién’s point of view, this was nearly the perfect performance. Even if the results have not quite fallen for his side, the performances have been ever-present this season, and it all paid off in this one. They claim their second win of the season to move onto nine points with two winnable home fixtures in the league and Europa League coming up.

Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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