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Immediate Reaction: Real Betis 1 - 2 Real Madrid

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A wild one at the Benito Villamarin, as Ceballos buries his former team

Real Betis Balompie v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Real Betis lose 1 - 2 to Real Madrid (Canales; Modric, Ceballos). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.


This was wild. Let’s start with the formation

Santiago Solari rolled out a 3-5-2 to start this match which surprised everyone. It’s a formation that Solari has never used, not even at the Castilla level. Isco, who everyone thought had to start (not me, if I’m being honest), given the injuries and suspensions, was on the bench, and Marcelo joined him on the sidelines.

A 3-5-2 is generally a sound defensive formation, yet there was some skepticism as to how Solari would make it work. It was something he used tonight to combat Setien’s Juego de Posicion. Real Betis have not been great this season. Their win against Barcelona skewed how fans perceived them — but that victory in the Camp Nou was something that Solari perhaps learned from. Betis are lethal when they have space — something that Barcelona provided them with. Against low blocks, Betis have had a lot of possession, with little creativity in the final third. It made sense, in theory, to deny Setien as much space as possible, and force them to create and defend counters.

And it worked in the first half. Apart from some loose vertical defending from the midfield in the first couple minutes, the team looked solid defensively. Both Reguilon and Carvajal had excellent coverage from Modric, Casemiro, and Valverde (Valverde’s coverage on the left was particularly impressive), and Varane, Nacho, and Ramos mopped up anything Betis tried to bring through the middle or half-spaces.

Real had 29% possession in the first half, but didn’t look unnerved on the counter, where Vinicius Jr was incredibly dangerous. Vinicius, who won the ball deep on his own on three separate occassions, was also giving Betis a ton of problems in transition with great off-ball runs, pass-and-move sequences, and surgical passes.

Real Madrid’s goal came from a ball instigated by the Brazilian — without him, the Real Madrid counter would’ve been defanged completely — and finished brilliantly by Modric:

Real Madrid went into half-time with a slim, one-goal lead — with an unfortunate twist, as Karim Benzema had to leave the game due to a finger injury. Solari brought on Cristo, in what was a like-for-like sub.

One thing I noted at half-time was how deep Real Madrid were:

In truth, despite dangerous counters and better chances in the first half, Real Madrid did struggle to find outlets and string passes together. This problem grew worse in the second half, when Betis gained momentum and took their counter-press to another level. Real Madrid couldn’t get out of their own third, and eventually conceded. Lo Celso’s through-ball found Sergio Canales:

From that moment, Real Madrid were in big trouble. Betis has a lot of momentum, and Solari’s men were beginning to lose their shape (and, actually completely lost it on several occassions). Two of the team’s best offensive players, and most press-resistant players, to be sure, were on the bench (and never saw the field). Solari knew he had to regain some control, so he brought on Brahim and Ceballos for Fede and Reguilon. With Reguilon coming off, Solari switched to four at the back, with Nacho going to the left-back slot. There was definitely a lack of cohesiveness and structure at that point, with tactics changing on the fly, and Betis attacking in waves.

But, Real held on, and, with ice in his veins, Ceballos stepped up to a free-kick and buried his old team, in what was a magical moment:

The match ended with three (huge) points. There is a lot to discuss from this which we’ll do on tonight’s podcast. Stay tuned.