Last week Real Betis appointed experienced manager Manuel Pellegrini after a poor run of results left Real Betis nearly being pulled into a relegation battle. Pellegrini will officially return to La Liga next season with sporting director Alexis Trujillo acting as interim manager until the rest of the season and Saturday’s game against Atletico Madrid echoed the problems that Real Betis have had this season, having only won one game away from home all season.

Known for his attacking possession-based football, Pellegrini will look to get Real Betis back into Europe as quickly as possible. Their squad includes players like Nabil Fekir, Marc Bartra, and Sergio Canales and they will all be key in helping Pellegrini’s charge towards Europe next season. Pellegrini will have a whole pre-season to instill his philosophy into his players and alter the team to make it his own which will be looked at in this tactical analysis.

Finding the formation

Real Betis will be Pellegrini’s fourth Spanish club having previously managed Villarreal, Real Madrid, and Malaga and this experience will hold him in good stead to decide how to improve the Real Betis team. Wherever Pellegrini has managed he has played with the same attacking philosophy with tweaks in his tactics depending on the type of players he had.

It is predicted that Pellegrini will favour the 4-4-1-1 formation to allow the two central midfielders to protect the back four while the two players furthest forward will provide the attacking threat for the side, supported by the two wide midfielders. This will be spoken about in more detail in this tactical analysis.

Pellegrini’s last job was in the Premier League managing West Ham United and he enjoyed switching between the 4-4-1-1, 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations, it is unlikely he will stick to one formation at Real Betis. He last managed in Spain seven years ago and seemed to adopt a more offensive strategy compared to when he worked in England, therefore it would come at a surprise if the 4-1-4-1 was used that often because it is predominantly used as a defensive formation.

Defensive decisions

It is likely that Pellegrini’s tactics for Real Betis will differ in comparison with his tactics at West Ham because he had to adapt his high defensive block tactics to the Premier League and West Ham’s quality of defenders. Many strikers in the Premier League like to position on the last line of defence to catch the defence out from a long ball however this is less likely to happen in La Liga because teams are reluctant to play longer passes as it risks losing possession.

From the analysis of Pellegrini at previous clubs, we can see that he enjoys playing a high line to squeeze the opponent and this allows his team to win the ball higher up the pitch in attacking positions to give the team a better likelihood of scoring. The defenders position themselves just inside their own half to keep the ball away from their goal and pressure the opposition. Pellegrini didn’t play such a high line when managing West Ham but he decided to against Norwich and the map(below) is a good visual of the high defensive line he enjoys playing (not a very high line but higher than a standard defensive line). This high line could be applied at Real Betis.

Manuel Pellegrini at Real Betis 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics
West Ham average player positions against Norwich earlier this season.

Pellegrini likes his team to defend narrow when in their own half to block attacks through the centre of the pitch and against Norwich their average width was 48 metres. Pellegrini may consider training his Real Betis team to defend with less width than they have done as they have played with an average width greater than 50 metres. The Chilean also likes his wide midfielders to act as extra central midfielders when defending (below) to stop teams attacking centrally and when the opposition moves the ball out wide his team is very quick and disciplined at pressing the ball holder quickly.

Manuel Pellegrini at Real Betis 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics
Wide midfielders defending narrow. Shaded area shows small distance between defence and attack.

Pellegrini favours a high defensive block because it pushes his team into the opposition half marking all opposition players closely to potentially win the ball and this means that his attacking players need to be mobile and hard working at pressing high up the pitch to win the ball back. Pellegrini’s press worked well against Norwich because West Ham were very compact as the distance between defence and attack was 27 metres and this type of distance helps to press teams.

Below shows, West Ham pressing high up the pitch with Declan Rice in an advanced position to press which forced Norwich to make quick and less composed passes. His midfield partner Mark Noble is able to drop deep to move into passing lanes to intercept the hurried passes. Pellegrini demands a high block and for this to be effective Real Betis’ pressing must be improved as they allow 10.02 PPDA.

Manuel Pellegrini at Real Betis 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics
West Ham pressing in Norwich’s final third.

A big problem for Real Betis has been conceding goals, having the third worst defence in the league this season. A high proportion of goals conceded this season has come from counter attacks and Pellegrini must look to minimize this. 20% of their ball losses have been in their own third and by playing a high defensive line it stops the Real Betis players losing the ball so close to their own goal. Pellegrini may be more inclined to play two defensive midfielders to help prevent counter attacks against his side.

Like many of his sides, Pellegrini will look to make the two defensive midfielders pivots where their role in the team is to intercept passes by covering passing lanes when the team presses with the aim of winning the ball back and distributing the ball to the attacking players as quickly as possible. A role Ignacio Camacho performed brilliantly in for Pellegrini at Malaga.

Marc Bartra could be moved into the defensive midfield role having won 68% of his defensive duels and he has made 5.31 interceptions per game. Having been a product of the Barcelona academy he possesses a strong technical ability. He looks capable to play as one of the pivots and Pellegrini could coach him into a defensive midfielder as he did with Declan Rice at West Ham. Guido Rodriguez could partner him in midfield however his lack of technical ability could force Pellegrini into the market for a defensive deep-lying playmaker who can play the pivot role such as Camacho who knows Pellegrini’s tactics well.

A basis to attack

Pellegrini demands the ball to move quickly to unsettle the opposition. He would rather have a strong defensive centre-back than one who was better at passing than defending. When they win the ball they play short passes to the central midfielders who will distribute the ball further forward. If Marc Bartra plays further forward Aissa Mandi could be Pellegrini’s main centre-back next season because he has proved to be a strong passer having accurately made 88% of 22 forward passes this season which would compliment Pellegrini’s high tempo football. He has also proven to be a difficult defender to dribble past.

Manuel Pellegrini at Real Betis 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics
Mark Noble and Declan Rice positioning.

When the ball is further forward Pellegrini requires one midfielder to hold their position in front of the centre-backs in the role Declan Rice played for West Ham and we could see Bartra moved into this role. Mark Noble was able to join attacks when he felt it was necessary for a deep box-to-box role which Andres Guadrado can perform in well. Against better opposition, it is likely two midfielders will hold their position when the team attack to prevent a counter attack.

The big question for Pellegrini is where to play his third player in midfield. This season when he managed West Ham he preferred the 4-1-4-1 where he played one pivot but if he were to play two pivots which he might, does the third midfielder play as an attacking midfielder in a 4-4-1-1 or as a second striker in a 4-2-2-2? Sergio Canales looks to be the perfect candidate to fit the attacking midfield role in the 4-4-1-1 making 3.97 accurate final third passes per game and 0.64 key passes per game. His intelligent passes could be the key to help Pellegrini’s team unlock opponents with his teammates making dangerous off the ball runs.

Nabil Fekir has been Real Betis’ standout performer this season having scored seven goals this season from attacking midfield. He has taken 3.2 shots per game and impressively 39% of these shots were on target. He could be well utilized playing in right-midfield where is able to cut inside onto his preferred left foot. Pellegrini likes his wide midfielders to play with freedom(below) and we could see Fekir improve on his goal tally next season with Pellegrini’s tactics allowing him to move into better goal scoring positions.

Manuel Pellegrini at Real Betis 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics
Arthur Masuaku providing width and Felipe Anderson and Robert Snodgrass playing as narrow attacking midfielders.

Full-backs are now demanded to contribute greater amounts to a team’s attack and Pellegrini asks his full-backs to create the width for the team(above) which allows his wide midfielders to play as attacking midfielders primarily playing within the widths of the 18-yard box and with the freedom to roam wherever they please. This means that Pellegrini not only needs his defenders to be strong in the challenge to help the team win the ball from a press but also needs them to possess the attributes of a winger by being able to run with the ball into positions to make passes to attackers.

Emerson will be at Real Betis for at least another season due to Real Betis’ agreement with Barcelona and the 21-year-old has been brilliant this season making nine successful defensive actions per game as well as creating five goals this season. Alex Moreno looks a great fit at left-back winning 58% of his defensive duels while providing 3.31 crosses per game and he has been a real nuisance for opposition full-backs, successfully dribbling past opponents 59% of the time helping him to make 3.42 progressive runs with the ball per game.

Manuel Pellegrini at Real Betis 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics
Sebastien Haller moving wide from the striker position to create triangles that exploit the overload.

When Pellegrini’s team transitions into attack he likes to exploit triangles formed by overloads. In the attacking third, he particularly likes his strikers to be mobile by involving themselves in build-up play, dropping deep into midfield to receive the ball or by moving out wide to create overloads (above). Top goalscorer Loren Moron could be Pellegrini’s main striker next season because he likes to involve himself in build-up play and has that physicality that Pellegrini likes his strikers to have to be able to bully defenders and win the ball high up the pitch. He can make a great contribution defensively as he wins 60% of his defensive duels per game however Pellegrini will need to improve Moron’s positioning having been offside 1.04 times per game.

Conclusion

Real Betis fans must be excited to see Pellegrini at the helm given his previous successes in La Liga and it will give them encouragement that he can help them challenge for the European places next season while playing attractive football at Estadio Benito Villamarin. Away from home, he will look to reduce the number of goals conceded, particularly from counter attacks while still giving his team an edge going forward to improve on their away form from this season.

Pellegrini has an exciting squad at his disposal and after providing analysis on Real Betis it looks as though they have performed below their potential this season. A wide left midfielder could be on Pellegrini’s transfer list with Joaquin nearly turning 40 and Christian Tello struggling to perform this season. Another position could be the goalkeeper with Pellegrini looking to sign someone who is strong with the ball at their feet to help start attacks from the back while still being a very able shot stopper.

Pellegrini’s tenure next season will be monitored closely with Real Betis looking to put this season behind them and perform at the heights they did in 2017/18 season where they finished sixth.