Real Betis – Valencia: Betis’ lack of game management costs them in fun Copa del Rey game (2-2)

In this dramatic Copa del Rey semi-final first leg, Valencia were masterful in exploiting Betis’ man-marking, yet also inconsistent in their defending of their opposition’s inside attackers. Betis on the other hand simply seemed to lack the experience to cope with different game states, as they massively hampered their chances of progressing to the final in the final stage of the game.  

Tactical analysis by Peter M.

Betis’ most prominent issues this season predominantly have to do with their play in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. In general, they do not offer enough support to their number one striker, Loren Morón. In general, building up and progressing the ball into the last part of the pitch is done well, but executing the final pass is problematic.

Valencia’s issues this season are quite similar to those of Betis, actually. Both sides began the season with unlucky finishing streaks that reflected poorly on their results, but not necessarily their performances. Only now are Marcelino’s side beginning to convert these chances, and in a way that makes them look like the same force to be reckoned with from last season.

Both managers rotated their starting eleven somewhat. Following Valencia’s 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou on Saturday, Marcelino swapped out Daniel Wass, Kévin Gameiro and Tony Lato, to bring in Carlos Soler, Santi Mina and José Gayà respectively. Quique Setién – Betis’ manager – made quite a few more changes compared to the team that started against Atlético Madrid, Giovani Lo Celso being included, as well as Loren and Sidnei. Júnior Firpo made his  first start for Betis in 2019 after being out with a hamstring injury for some time.

Valencia contain early Betis possession

When a possession-oriented side like Betis meet a defending team like Valencia, you know what’s going to happen. Betis had the ball and tried to break down Valencia’s 4-4-2 shape. Against Betis’ 3-5-2 formation, Valencia had an easy time to block or suffocate any passes into Betis’ advanced midfielders, who were positioned in either halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. right behind the midfield.

The key to addressing those attempts by the center-backs playing into them was to have the full-back immediately challenge the receiver from behind whilst the ball-sided, central and wide midfielders pressed back in on them. In general, Real Betis dipped in and out of positioning in a 3-5-1-1 formation, as Lo Celso dropped into the channel between Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo.

Valencia were slightly more energetic in their press when trying to direct the short plays towards the left-side, away from their opposition’s favored right side. This could subsequently stop the flow of switches into Betis’ left back Júnior as well. As part of a pressing trigger, A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. Denis Cheryshev quickly pushed up onto Aïssa Mandi when the ball was about to be shifted across to him, so that the away side could quickly force it back the other way and subsequently dictate the movement of the ball into one tight area against the touchline. That way, Betis were kept at bay most of the times in the first half.

Valencia exploit the gaps in Betis’ press

Utilizing man-marking during a press while also using a back-five is a difficult task, as the wide center-backs can become stuck without being able to press anyone. This caused problems for Betis, because Valencia made Parejo peel wide and Coquelin push up. That way, the visitors were pulling the Betis midfield in all different directions in order to open up the center of the pitch. With Rodrigo being the specialist at dropping in and receiving, these wide-open gaps against a defensive unit were lethal.

In the twenty-eighth minute, Rodrigo completed the same linkup play, shifting it wide and then quickly getting into the last line for a cross. A type of low, driven cross that Valencia had been firing in from deep positions all game long was delivered to the Spaniard’s feet. However, his low, near-post finish was denied by an outstanding save from Betis goalkeeper Joel Robles.

A tweak in Valencia’s defending shifts the game back in Betis’ favor

Quite unexpectedly, a sway in momentum occurred around the thirty-minute mark, which had everything to do with Valencia’s own deficiencies. In Valencia’s attempts to shut out Betis’ wing-backs, the fullbacks on either side were instructed to anticipate passes into them early on. What this resulted in – unlike before where they remained very narrow and centrally compact – was a huge horizontal gap in the away side’s backline, since the center-backs were staying with the center-forward in the middle.

With the space too big for one central midfielder to be able to block passes into, Sergio Canales managed to find his way in behind with ease. Clearly onside, the midfielder, in the 34th minute, turned and whipped it to the back-post where his far-sided midfield partner Guardado placed it across goal, agonizingly wide of the woodwork.

Betis tacticsCanales’ open runs into the halfspace, unfilled thanks to Gayà’s pressing of Joaquín.

Canales and Guardado then both proceeded to exploit the inside channels a further couple of times, each putting themselves in excellent spots to cut back the ball, however, failing to create too much more of note. Soon enough, the fullbacks tucked in again but still Betis pushed on. In the final minute of the first half, Guardado received inside and laid it off into the un-pressured Júnior. His whipped cross found the head of Loren and eventually worked its way out for a corner.

Said corner was taken short, and after a clearly-rehearsed routine, Sidnei and Mandi doubled up at the far-post only for the Brazilian to knock it back into the mixer where Loren was free of Gayà – 1-0 Betis right on the cusp of half-time.

Valencia’s early second half flourish is soon flattened by a Betis second goal

Valencia pushed on again in the opening five minutes of the second half. Still with the same attacking tactics – creating space in the middle for Rodrigo – they found relative success in chance creation. Santi Mina was subject to the next big chance. Rodrigo’s typical drop-in was simple enough, as he used the delayed press to turn sharply away from Sidnei. Sliding it past a wrong-footed substitute in the form of Javi García placed the attacker to run through on goal, however his effort was partially denied and sent deflecting out for a corner.

Valencia once again paid the price for their missed opportunities, as veteran Joaquín doubled the lead minutes later, scoring an incredibly remarkable goal. To put it simply, he scored directly from a corner. His low, in-swinging cross caught Valencia’s goalkeeper Jaume Doménech off-guard as it snuck in past the unguarded near-post.

Kévin Gameiro and Betis’ inability to manage the game gives Valencia a way back in

A test of any good possession side is also how well they utilize the ball when trying to dictate games. As was the case for Betis – and not in a positive way – they appeared unsure of how to handle themselves with a two-goal lead. With the stakes being high, it looked like the inexperience of the squad seeped through. Although they recycled the ball well, there were far too many risky forward passes, and far too many giveaways as a result. In a period where they needed to keep the ball away from Valencia so to kill the momentum completely, they consequently lost hold of the ball.

Coinciding with this renewed pressure was Marcelino’s switch of Kévin Gameiro for Santi Mina. What made this substitute so damaging to Betis was that this was another striker able to drop, to receive, to carry the ball and to make runs.

So, now, with so plenty of space still to operate in, it was becoming increasingly difficult for an ever-tiring Betis midfield to continuously try to close down every ball-carrier. Resultantly, the defense quickly began to show frailties. Underpinned by their new-found control of Betis’ half, Valencia were now first to every loose ball and turnover, as Betis were pinned inside their own half.

This time, when entrapping a sluggish counterattack, Rodrigo reclaimed possession, jinxed inside and slid through Gameiro down the channel – another attacker not followed by a Betis defender tightly enough. His wicked ball across the face of goal somehow managed to find the head of Cheryshev as he halved the deficit with twenty minutes left to play.

Valencia produce late drama

Having survived to the point of stoppage time, it was surely clear that Betis needed to see out the match. However, their possession shape suggested they were not prepared to do anything of the sort. Multiple Betis players were still needlessly up against the last line, Mandi had stepped out from defense and only William was even remotely close to blocking any direct balls into either striker should there be a turnover.

Betis risk semi-attacking play at the cost of a goal with weakened defensive structure.

Surprisingly, it was then the most experienced figure on the pitch, Joaquín, who decided to attempt a risky forward pass into a tight area. Gayà intercepted, sprung it forwards to Gameiro and suddenly there was a two-versus-two on for Valencia in the last minute, in a match Betis was winning, mind you. Gameiro won the footrace against Sidnei and was magnificently picked out by star-performer Rodrigo, leaving him with the simple job of poking it through the Joel’s legs, which he did.


Given how important away goals are in this competition, Valencia’s late equalizer – a deserved one at that – capped off an enthralling semi-final first leg and could prove a huge game-changer. Betis will probably have to do something they have yet done since Setién took charge in order to get to the final: beat Marcelino’s Valencia.

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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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