The fixture list could have been kinder to Real Betis. With just three days to go before the game against the Werkself, the team were involved in a league match on Monday night – away to Deportivo Alaves at the other end of Spain. But: In addition to the burden of a short break, the Green and Whites also enjoyed some euphoria. A goal from substitute striker Borjar Iglesias won the game for Betis in the penultimate minute to secure "three very important points to stay in touch with the top teams," as coach Manuel Pellegrini said after the game. His team are now in eighth place but only two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and five behind the surprise league leaders from San Sebastián. Real Betis have also been doing well on the international stage having qualified for the Europa League by finishing sixth last term. An action-packed 4-3 win after being two goals down against Celtic was followed by a 3-1 victory away to Ferencváros. That puts Betis level on points with the Werkself in second place in Group G – it is a direct clash between the two top favourites to win the group.
Joaquin is now used to records. Another one arrived on Monday night. With a clever run and a perfect cross to goalscorer Iglesias, the playing club legend set up the crucial goal at Alaves – and thereby became the first-ever La Liga player to be directly involved in a goal after his 40th birthday. The 52-time Spain international, who took part in the 2002 World Cup before Bayer 04 youngster Florian Wirtz was born, is an absolute phenomenon. Joaquin is the oldest current outfield player in the top five European leagues – and not as a central defender or centre forward but as an offensive all-rounder who can play in all attacking positions in a front three as in the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by the Spaniards. His appearances in the current La Liga campaign have been restricted to time on the pitch from the bench but in the Europa League coach Pellegrini has trusted the experienced captain in both games from the start – so it cannot be ruled out that he may be in the line-up against the Werkself on Thursday.
But Joaquin is not the only player in the squad who has a wealth of experience. There is the 35-year-old Andrés Guardado, who may be familiar to many Werkself fans. The little Mexican joined Bayer 04 on loan in the second half of the 2013/14 season and he made seven appearances for the Black and Reds. Also familiar from the Bundesliga is central defender Marc Bartra who played for Borussia Dortmund from 2016 to 2018 and had previously twice won the Champions League with Barcelona. The most experienced of all the people involved at Betis is definitely the coach. At the age of 68, the Chilean Pellegrini has almost witnessed everything in his 33 years as a manager. He coached Real Madrid for one year until the arrival of Pep Guardiola and then moved on to Manchester City. He won the Premier League with the Citizens in 2014.
It's not for nothing that Real Betis have scored the most goals of all the 32 teams after the two Europa League match days. The team has outstanding quality in terms of play and technique in attack. The key men are playmaker Nabil Fekir who won the World Cup with France in 2018 playing in six out of the seven matches. His role as the number 10 means another high quality player in the shape of Sergio Canales has to make way. The former Real Madrid player mostly plays on the wing or even in a holding midfield. The centre of the Betis midfield is full of top players as, in addition to Canales and Fekir, there is also William Carvalho, a Euro 2016 winner with Portugal, and the Argentina international Guido Rodriguez. And that's not even including the two previously mentioned stalwarts Joaquin and Guardado.
Apart from in the centre of midfield, there is a lack of depth in certain positions in the squad. A frequent criticism from the Spanish media in the current campaign is that the back-up does not work properly – particularly in defence but also in the attacking positions on the flanks. Real Betis do not have major personnel issues at the moment and coach Pellegrini is considered a friend of rotation – particularly with Betis in three competitions. Given the short break after the game on Monday, the Chilean may make one or two changes in comparison to the side that played in La Liga for the game against the Werkself.
Real Betis are an incredibly experienced team that has great individual quality in almost every position and is well organised. The players know what they have to do in tight games – which could prove a winner in the knockout stages of the Europa League. Real Betis and the Werkself are both in with a good chance of qualifying for next round – and then it could depend on the draw to see how far Spaniards can go. There is also everything to play for in La Liga with qualification for next season’s Europa League a realistic target.
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The first of eight games across all competitions before the winter break has been won: The Werkself beat Werder Bremen 3-0 away on Bundesliga matchday 12. The goals scored were an own goal (9') and one each from Jeremie Frimpong (42') and Alejandro Grimaldo (76'). The away win ensures Bayer 04 stay top of the table.Show more
The final international break of 2023 is over and now Bayer 04 start a busy run of fixtures up to the winter break. The first of eight games across all competitions before Christmas is today’s away fixture at Werder Bremen (kick-off: 15.30 CET). The latest updates on the game at the Weserstadion.Show more