Real Betis won their third Copa del Rey title last Saturday after beating Valencia on penalties. It is one of the most celebrated titles in the history of the verdiblanco club, not only because of the importance of the title itself, but also because of the path they took in the competition.
Betis had to eliminate Sevilla, their closest rival, Real Sociedad, the 2020 winners, and Rayo Vallecano, one of the surprises in Spanish football earlier on this season, to be able to reach the final. The icing on the cake was that the final was played in Seville, their city, and that they knew that the fans were going to inspire them from the first moment, as was seen in the days before kick-off.
This season Manuel Pellegrini has managed to forge one of the best teams in the history of Real Betis, at least in terms of play and offensive contribution. They’re the second-best team in LaLiga in developing attacking moves, only behind Real Madrid, and are fighting to play in the Champions League 17 years after their last participation (curiously, 2005 was also the last time they won the Copa del Rey).
In the final we knew in advance that it was going to be a clash of styles with José Bordalás' Valencia. Los Che are one of the teams in Europe who commits the most fouls and receives the most yellow cards per game. However, the Valencia that we saw in the final was a team that knew in which phases to hurt Betis, with quick and accurate counter-attacks.
Guido started commanding the game
In the first phases of the game, Betis came out to put pressure on Valencia. The drive to play in their city and the motivation with which they went into the match made them go out to command the final from the first moment. The two teams came out with the respect that a Copa del Rey final deserves, but in this element, Betis managed to dominate the game earlier, first with a successful pressure in the opponent’s half, reaching the second lowest PPDA (passes per defensive action) of the entire match shortly after taking the lead (3.7).
There was a name that stood out throughout the entire match: Guido Rodríguez. The entire Betis scheme focused on the figure of Guido and that square which formed the centre of the field along with Sergio Canales, William Carvalho and Nabil Fekir. In fact, the figure of Guido was the main man for Betis in creating the first goal of the match, knowing how to find the hole in the centre of the Valencia system and offering a clean pass for the ball.
Guido was the conduit through which all the balls passed from Betis’ own territory to the last third of the opponent’s half. He knew how to stand out throughout the match, get the ball out well and offer solutions to his teammates.
With first blood in the form of a goal from Borja Iglesias, Betis displayed their best offensive play, reaching 72% of possession in phases of the match. In that phase of successive passing, they managed to limit Valencia, recovering the ball very quickly. Guido was attentive to the entire left zone of the Valencia attack, in addition to continuing to play a big role in Betis' attacks, both from the right and the left.
But finals are decided by knockout blows, not points, and Valencia were going to have their chance to equalise very quickly. Fantastic combination play from Carlos Soler, Ilaix Moriba and Hugo Duro levelled the match with the first shot on goal for the 2019 winners.
Marc Bartra left his area, lost a duel in the opposing half and it was Guido who had to drop back to cover him. Betis rank 83rd of the 98 teams in Europe’s top five leagues for shots received on the counter-attack, showing that this was not a threat Betis were used to. Ilaix was able to feed Hugo Duro a perfect pass, and the striker duly took his chance. All that good tactical work done by Betis had gone to waste, because with Valencia's first shot on goal, the match was level.
Carlos Soler's show
Until Valencia's goal, Betis had 72% possession. With the goal from Los Che, all that changed. Carlos Soler began to receive more balls in midfield and became the cornerstone of all Valencia attacks. His were the three best passing combinations in the match amongst Bordalás’ players (Soler-Gonçalo Guedes: 12 passes, Soler-Hugo Guillamón: 9 passes, Soler-Ilaix: 9 passes).
This improvement was ignited by a change in the system, where Soler, instead of playing as a second striker on the right, dropped back until he became another midfielder, just like Duro did in defensive phases. Having more men in midfield, Betis could not get the ball to Guido or Carvalho as easily and had to play more long balls, favouring the Valencia defence.
By having more players in midfield, Valencia managed to combine better attacking plays and more possession. In fact, the end of the first half was Valencia's best moment in the game. With the appearance of Carlos Soler, they managed to launch their attacks on the right side of the pitch, 18 of them, even surpassing Betis in XG during the game, 1.4 for Betis, 1.45 for Valencia.
The second half followed the same pattern, with a great opportunity for Duro right from the restart. In that passage of play, great anticipation from Ómar Alderete managed to leave Betis overcommitted and both Soler and Duro took advantage of the gap in the middle, but the shot went over the bar. It was the clearest chance of the game, with 0.71 xG.
Even so, Valencia continued to hurt Betis, reaching the opposition area with relative ease. The great improvement of Bordalás’ men was in their pressure over the half-way line, with the PPDA, the passes per defensive action that one team allows the other in the opponent’s half. In this aspect, Valencia averaged 11.78 in the season, and in the second half of the final they reached an average of 5.05, a considerable improvement in the effectiveness of their pressure in the Betis half.
Each spell of possession and move from Valencia became a problem for Betis, who did nothing but clear balls. This is the comparison of clearances in the first half against the second:
Valencia's move to the front was also reflected in possession of the ball. If until the Valencia goal, the ball had belonged to Betis, until the 70th minute, Bordalás' men were the ones who offered more in attack. They left Pellegrini's men with 49% possession in some phases of the second half, which would have been unthinkable before the game. They also made more positional attacks in the second half than Betis, 12 to 9, where Soler stood out again joined this time by Guedes, as the Valencia players who touched the ball the most times in the match, 53 and 56 times respectively.
It was from approximately the 70th minute when both teams began to feel the great physical wear and tear of their efforts in the final. The midfield ceased to be so important and gave way to quick attacking transitions in which both teams ended up having scoring opportunities.
In fact, both Betis and Valencia started attacking with extra time in mind and opted more for the long ball, with both teams below their season average in players involved in each possession (3.04-2.05). Fear began to make its presence felt on the pitch and Betis' inexperience in finals was reflected in their PPDA during the last 15 minutes of the match, reaching the maximum in the game of 24, an increase of 208% over their season average.
Extra time, a coin toss
Neither team was comfortable during extra time, there was too much tension in the match and the feeling was that if any team was going to score the final goal, it had to come from an opponent's mistake. No-one was going to be too ambitious offensively and risk a counter-attack or a dangerous play, the main thing was not to receive shots and so be it.
But football always tells the most incredible stories at the most unexpected moments and it wanted the first final with fans since 2019 to be decided on the lottery of penalties. Both teams would take them at the end full of Betis fans, where it may be that in this 2022 final there would be a child watching on just like Juan Miranda was in 2005. The now-Betis player travelled to that final in Madrid with his father to see Betis lift their second Copa del Rey. This is a player who travelled across Europe looking for a home and who has ended up discovering that there is nowhere like home, back where it all started. He had to be the one who gave beticismo the greatest football joy since 2005, scoring the decisive penalty and writing his name in gold letters in the history of the team he loves.
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