Real Betis' thrilling win over Barcelona features in our best La Liga games of 2018

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Real Betis

There have been some nail-biters, some goal-fests and plenty of excitement that one could reminisce at the end of another thrilling year of La Liga action.

Before hoping that 2019 gifts us with more of the same or maybe even better games, we take a look at five of the best games of the season.

SEVILLA 3-5 REAL BETIS

Real Betis' Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz (R) scores a goal during the Spanish league football match between Sevilla and Real Betis at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on January 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA QUICLER        (Photo credit should read CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images)

Real Betis’ Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz (R) scores a goal during the Spanish league football match between Sevilla and Real Betis at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on January 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA QUICLER (Photo credit should read CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s nothing better than an eight-goal thriller in which the underdogs prevail despite playing away from home. More so when it is a derby and the away team had not won a league game at that stadium for over a decade.

This was exactly what happened in the Seville Derby in one of the first games of 2018.

Fabian Ruiz opened the scoring in the first minute after his shot from distance got the better of Sergio Rico. The hosts responded with a clever finish from Wissam Ben Yedder.

Zouhair Feddal made it 2-1 in the visitors favour but their joy was short-lived as Simon Kjaer equalised well before half-time.

Riza Durmisi and Sergio Leon scored in quick succession after the hour mark, but Clement Lenglet pulled one back for the hosts immediately.

With all men driving forward in the last moments of the game, Sevilla’s vulnerability on the counter was exploited by Cristian Tello and the game finished 3-5 in favour of Real Betis.

LEVANTE 5-4 BARCELONA

Levante

Levante

Ernesto Valverde was on the verge of creating history by becoming the first manager to go unbeaten in the entire season.

However, a defeat to Levante away from home in the penultimate fixture prevented Valverde from achieving this unique record.

Emmanuel Boateng scored a brace in the first 30 minutes but Barcelona replied through Coutinho before going into the break with a one goal disadvantage.

Enir Bardhi netted Levante’s third in the first minute of the second half and Boateng completed his hat-trick immediately. Bardhi then made it 4-1 in the 56th minute and the hosts were all set to be the first team to inflict a defeat on Barcelona.

However, an attempt at a come-back was initiated, with Coutinho leading the charge from long term. The Brazilian completed his hat-trick after netting twice in five minutes. A Luis Suarez penalty in the 71st minute raised the optimism levels of all the Barcelona fans across the world, but Levante held on to end Barcelona’s invincibility.

BARCELONA 3-4 REAL BETIS

Messi ended up on the losing side despite scoring two.

Messi ended up on the losing side despite scoring two.

This was a very special game for the Cruyffista in Real Betis boss Quique Setien as he watched his team dismantle Barcelona using their philosophy and in their hunting ground.

The former Las Palmas boss employed a Juego de posicion system to slit a hole in Barcelona’s granite-like defence.

Junior Firpo and Joaquin scored in the first half to give the visitors a 2-0 lead going into the break.

Lionel Messi stepped up to score from the spot early in the second half before Giovani Lo Celso made it 3-1 following a howler from Marc Andre Ter Stegen.

Arturo Vidal pulled one back with 11 minutes of normal remaining and the game was surely heading for a nail-biting finish.

Sergio Canales restored the two-goal lead in the 83rd minute, but Messi’s neat finish in injury time proved to be in vain as Betis walked away with all three points that night.

This tremendous performance by the visitors also made a case for why Setien should succeed Valverde as Barcelona boss.

REAL BETIS 3-3 CELTA VIGO

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BETIS-SEVILLA

It’s no surprise that Real Betis feature in this list so frequently. Their high-line of defence and a free-flowing attack promises a goal-fest on either side of the pitch.

In arguably the best game of the season so far, Betis and Celta Vigo played out a 3-3 draw at the Villamarin.

Loren Moron scored in the first half to give the hosts the lead and Firpo doubled their advantage early in the second half. Maxi Gomez led Celta Vigo’s comeback and the elusive Brais Mendez went on to equalise in the 69th minute.

The former handed the visitors the lead late in the second half, only for Sergio Canales to restore parity.

The 3-3 scoreline was a fair representation of the performances by both teams.

BARCELONA 2-2 REAL MADRID

It was the last Clasico that featured two of the best players in the world

It was the last Clasico that featured two of the best players in the world

The list is rounded off with one of the most evenly contested El Clasicos of recent times.

The significance of this game was huge, mainly due to the fact that Los Blancos were touted to be La Liga’s best bet at ending Barcelona’s invincibility. But the visitors were by far the better side for most parts of the game.

Suarez opened the scoring after ten minutes after Sergi Roberto found the Uruguayan with a pin-point cross following a quick counter. The lead lasted for just four minutes though as Cristiano Ronaldo scored from close range to level proceedings.

Roberto was sent off just before half-time for violent conduct against Marcelo, handing the visitors a huge advantage for the second half.

However, it was Barcelona who scored first after the restart, as Messi stamped his name on the score-sheet of yet another Clasico with a fine finish.

Gareth Bale scored a stunner from long range to equalise and the game ended 2-2.

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Tested at Girona, implemented at Sevilla - Pablo Machin's recipe for success

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Pablo Machin

Pablo Machin has been a rather under-appreciated man inside and outside Spain.

It took him four years to have Girona promoted to the first division and then he immediately stabilised them as a mid-table club. In fact, the Catalan club even challenged for a Europa League spot last season before eventually losing out to Quique Setien’s Real Betis and Sevilla.

However, Machin’s European dream was realised as he was handed the reigns at Sevilla ahead of the 2018/19 season. So, after establishing a sustainable system at Girona, Machin marched on to his next challenge in La Liga and ensured that he carried his tactical identity with him.

The Sevilla job came with a better set of players and higher expectations. It’s safe to say that the former Girona boss has lived up to the expectations so far.

Sevilla are through to the knockouts of the Europa and sit at third place in the league, level on points with Atletico Madrid and just three points behind leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla have made a superb start to the campaign.

Sevilla have made a superb start to the campaign.

At Girona, Machin fancied a three-man defence with Jonas Ramalho, Bernardo Espinosa and Juanpe at the back. Wing-backs Pablo Maffeo and Johan Mojica patrolled the wings and usually sat back against fierce attacks like Barcelona, Sevilla and Real Madrid.

Manchester City loanee Maffeo was, famously, tasked with man-marking Lionel Messi in the Catalan Derby at the Estadi Montilivi.

At Sevilla, Machin has not fixed the defensive cracks completely yet but the structure is surely more stable now than it was last season.

Sevilla than eliminated Manchester United from the Champions League, but they were not at their defensive best. However, the Machin-era has started out well for Los Hispalenses on all fronts.

Gabriel Mercado, Simon Kjaer and Sergi Gomez constitute the three-man defence at Sevilla, with Jesus Navas and Guilherme Arana patrolling on the wings. When out of possession, the wing-backs position themselves high up the pitch in an attempt to strangle their opposite numbers.

This is not dissimilar to how Maffeo and Mojica function at Girona.

Although Sevilla usually play in a 3-5-2, they have experimented with a 3-1-4-2 which resembles a square-shaped attack with Pablo Sarabia and Franco Vazquez playing behind Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder.

Sarabia and Vazquez are tasked with pressing the opposition midfield to take the ball wide and ensure that the chances are created from the wings only. The backline is potent enough to ward off crosses and nullify any threats from the wing.

Ever Banega has been the midfield linchpin

Ever Banega has been the midfield linchpin

Ever Banega has been their best player this season, providing stability to the midfield and adding some much-needed creativity. His passing from deep helps set off counter attacks, an aspect that Sevilla are getting better at this season.

In attack, Sevilla like to stretch the play wide and lead the though Navas and Arana. By stretching the play wide, the opposition full-backs are put in a dilemma of whether they need to stay compact or follow the wing-backs.

In case they opt for the former, Navas is left with all the time and space to pick out the perfect cross. If the full-backs follow the Spaniard, one of the attacking midfielders makes a vertical run in the half-space to receive the square pass.

In any case, the attacking transitions are so fast that the opponents have very less time to react.

There has also been an increase in central through-balls under Machin and the pair of Silva and Ben Yedder have done justice to the service they have received from the back.

At Girona, Machin brought the best out of Cristian Stuani and Portu. The Spaniard was the main reason behind the former peaking as a late bloomer.

Similarly, he shares credit for why Silva has been one of the best transfers in La Liga this season.

The 43-year-old has shown at both the clubs that he knows how to service his striker in the best possible way. The fact that only Barcelona have scored more goals than Sevilla in the league this season further evidences this claim.

Andre Silva has been a brilliant signing for Sevilla

Andre Silva has been a brilliant signing for Sevilla

The Seville-based club mean business this season. Their claim for the throne on which Barcelona currently rest seems to be more promising than Valenca’s half-hearted attempt last season.

One man deserves a huge chunk of the credit – Machin.

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Barcelona putting pressure on Ernesto Valverde to decide on his future

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Barcelona are putting pressure on manager Ernesto Valverde to decide on his future before February, according to Marca.

The Spaniard has yet to make the call on staying at the Camp Nou beyond 2020, and the club’s hierarchy want an answer.

The 54-year-old signed a two-year deal with an option of a third when succeeding Luis Enrique in May 2017.

Valverde has been a success at Barcelona, winning 59 of the 85 games he been in charge so far, losing just seven games, with a win percentage of 69.

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