Quique Setién’s Real Betis is well known for their possession-based attacking style that is based on the tactical philosophy Juego de Posición, or “Positional Play.” If you are unfamiliar with this concept, there are several excellent explanations online here, here, and here (links are ordered from the most basic explanations to the most advanced). To put it simply, Juego de Posición refers to a structured system that places players within certain zones in order to achieve quantitative (numerical) or qualitative superiority (a 1v1 where your player is the superior footballer).
As noted by tactician Nathan A. Clark, the use of positional play is most suited against the 4-4-2 defensive block - the shape that Real Madrid employed vs. Betis - due to the 3 vs. 2 overload it creates at the back and the 4 vs. 5 overload it creates at the front.
In the context of the Betis match, this was achieved by Setién’s back three, which created numerical superiority against Ronaldo and Bale in build-up. As a result, Betis found it easy to circulate the ball out wide or play vertical passes into central areas. Such play was enhanced by the high and wide positioning of Setién’s fullbacks and the narrow positioning of the wingers in the half spaces. Passes out wide allowed Betis to engage with the passing triangles their structure naturally creates, but Madrid usually defended these initial probes well. Real also managed to hold off initial attacks even when Betis connected with players in central zones via vertical passes, but the home side simply recycled possession to the back and tried again. As these patterns of play repeated itself, Madrid’s shape became narrower to deal with the overloads created in midfield, allowing Betis to then shift the ball out wide to an onrushing fullback.
As detailed in the above video, Betis scored two of their goals through such patterns and also managed to trouble their opponents with a counterpress. Thanks to the occupation of zones that positional play requires, Betis were generally well set-up to immediately challenge for the ball as soon as they lost possession.
This disrupted Los Blancos’ build-up and created serious trouble for Sergio Ramos, Casemiro, and Mateo Kovacic.
The combination of Betis’ aforementioned counterpressing and penetrative possession play ensured that they created a greater sum of high-quality chances than Madrid, despite losing 3-5.
Where the home side failed, was in the cohesiveness of their back-line (a classic Setién problem) and their ability to keep their composure in a crucial period of the match.
The back five’s discipline, decision-making, and execution was shaky all game - as was evident on the poor clearance and the bewildering amount of space given to Ronaldo on Madrid’s first goal - and they lost their cool after Ramos’ equalizer, leading to foolish losses of possession when trying to build out from the back. This lasted for roughly 10-15 minutes, which proved to be ample time for Madrid to regain control of proceedings and win the game.
This Betis collapse is why some criticize Setién for being too idealistic. Juego de Posición is normally reserved for the elite, and even then, only for teams like Pep’s Barca and his current City side. Due to this, critics believe that Setién can be more pragmatic while still adhering to some basic concepts of positional play. Perhaps that is true, but there is no denying that his interpretation of football’s most advanced tactical philosophy gave the two-time defending European champions a run for their money.