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It must be tough being a Real Betis fan right now; not only are they down on the dumps, they also have to put up with the fact that arch rivals Sevilla are not only double UEFA Cup winners, and challenging for the title, they are also acknowledged as playing the best football seen in Spain for a long time.

Once the pride of Andalusia with the club featuring in the Champions League and signing big stars like Denilson, the club is now struggling – they only managed to keep their Liga 1 status with a win on the last day. For the board, the scenario was unacceptable and they will be determined this season to put the club right back on track.

The man charged to instil order back to the club is Argentine veteran Hector Cuper although one wonders if his one-year deal is a sign of non-confidence. Probably this is for the best since Cuper’s last stint at Real Mallorca ended with the exact same situation – fighting the relegation trapdoor. Still his pedigree is undisputed – leading Mallorca to the UEFA Cup final and Valencia to the Champions League final in successive years is proof of his ability and Betis will be hoping he can rediscover his magic. 

In a way, the playing staff at Betis is built up ideally to be a Cuper-side; there is a surfeit of defenders and attacking midfielders but few reliable strikers. As such, it will come as no surprise to learn that Cuper intends to implement his 4-5-1 framework – relying on the counterattacking strategy with quick-fire wingers to supply and support a lone front man. 

It remains a mystery why the defence struggled so much last year, leaking goals all over the place. Betis is betting that it was more due to psychological rather than physical problems. With Spanish international Juanito and David Rivas formed an uncompromising pairing in the middle while Slovenian right-back Branko Ilic was one of the heroes of the relegation battle.  

With Marko Babic coming in from Bayer Leverkusen at left-back and with the charismatic Portuguese international Ricardo being the new goalkeeper, the defence is complete and Cuper’s reputation as a defensive whiz will serve to ensure that last season’s nightmare will not be repeated. 

Assuncao and Alberto Rivera will fill the two defensive midfielder roles and their energy and work rate should fit Cuper’s tactics to a ‘T’, with other options like Arturo Garcia and the promising Juanlu ready to step in as a replacement.

Cuper loves to have players who are fleet of foot on the wings and in David Odonkor and new Chilean speedster Mark Gonzalez he has two ideal candidates. They have the ability to stretch the field and get behind the defence while at the same time providing an outlet for the long ball out of defence. 

The feebleness of the Betis attack can be seen from the fact that Brazilian hitman Robert was their top scorer with only 9 goals and compatriot Edu chipped in with 8. And they are not even expected to be the first choice players.  

What is likely to happen is that Cuper will employ the mobile and skilful Brazilian Rafael Sobis as the lone target man with either Edu or Capi assisting him from the attacking midfield position. Sobis’s intelligence and ability to hold the ball will allow other players like Gonzalez to surge up in support. Robert will be called upon if a more direct and physical approach is needed. Much is also expected of new Argentine striker Mariano Pavnoe.  

Expectations are lowered entering into the new season and this can only be good news for Cuper; expect them to be tough and hard to break down as he shapes Betis into a team after his own image.

Possible Betis First XI:
Ricardo; Ilic, Juanito, Rivas, Babic; Assuncao, Rivera; Gonzalez, Edu, Odonkor; Sobis

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