Real Betis cap week from hell with 'mad' defeat to Málaga

With fans in uproar, the last thing Betis needed was a painful loss and to slip into relegation trouble – but that is what they got

On Sunday last week, an 18-year-old who had never previously started a game scored against Real Betis after just 13 seconds, setting up a 5-0 defeat. On Monday the club's manager, Pepe Mel, felt the need to hold a press conference to insist he wasn't going to abandon ship. On Tuesday, the ultras turned up at the training ground to abuse the players, soon heading to the manager's office for an impromptu private meeting. On Wednesday, he held another press conference claiming he had no choice but to invite them in, and the team slipped into the relegation zone. On Thursday, they missed a penalty. Twice.

On Friday, the club published an official communique blaming the training ground incident on Mel. On Saturday, their most expensive summer signing went into hospital with appendicitis. And on Sunday, their centre-back broke his jaw and Málaga broke their hearts. It sure hadn't been Betis's week.

In the 94th minute, late, very late, on Sunday, the ball hit the goalkeeper, hit the bar and then hit the net. Twice they had come back from a goal down; now they had been defeated again, 3-2. In the penalty area, Betis players sunk to their knees, disbelief stretched across their faces. Over on the touchline, their manager threw down his bottle of water in anger, head about to explode. "It's mad that we didn't win this," he said later.

Mad, but worryingly familiar. Betis haven't won since September. This morning they sit in the relegation zone on nine points, the same number as Rayo Vallecano and Almería. The European positions that they aspired to stand 10 points away. In eight days they picked up a solitary point from three games and they've plummeted seven places in a fortnight.

Betis lost 5-0 at Atlético Madrid last Sunday, after which midfielder Matilla said: "This can't go on." But it went on. And on. "It would be dramático if we didn't beat Levante," the manager admitted. Four days, three press conferences and one training ground invasion later, they didn't beat Levante. It finished 0-0 after Jorge Molina had a penalty saved by Keylor Navas, got the chance to take it again and had it saved again. As if that wasn't bad enough; Levante's manager is the former Sevilla coach Joaquín Caparrós, an anti-bético and proud of it.

And on Sunday night, they were beaten 3-2 by Málaga – a side who hadn't even scored in four games.

"We're not on a good run," said Mel. He can say that again. The risk is that he might have to: it hasn't been a good week and Betis can't help fearing it's not going to get much better, either. Next Sunday they face Barcelona and after that it's city rivals Sevilla. "I have to take the positives," Mel insisted.

On Sunday, they went into the game with 11 players unavailable. By the end of the match that figure had grown: Javi Chica will miss out next week through a suspension he should have served this week, and after a clash of heads with Fabrice, Damien Perquis was carried off in an ambulance unconscious, not moving, a brace round his neck. "We still don't know how he is," Mel said with a sigh. News filtered through and it was good news: a double fracture to the jaw. Betis had feared it would be worse. The way the week had gone, that's hardly surprising. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. "Everyone's very down," Nacho admitted.

They'd been beaten by Getafe and Elche before but it had started to go really, really wrong with the 5-0 defeat at Atlético, a defeat that brought some of the underlying tension to the surface. On the train home late on Sunday night/Monday morning, supporters were far from happy. Mel admitted "it wasn't nice" and took a decision. The next day he called a press conference. Some wondered if it the division's longest serving manager – he took over in 2011 – was about to announce his resignation. Instead, he admitted that he had made mistakes – the rotation policy wasn't working, for one – but insisted that resignation would be a coward's way out. To do so would make him a "bad bético".

Mel invited the fans to back the team. The following day's training session was opened to the public. It was, some said, an invitation to trouble; what followed was inevitable. In the stands at the club's training ground, a group of supporters gathered. "Shameless sons of bitches," they shouted. "Your arse is too expensive to be dragging along the ground." "Come and suck it, Mel!" "You're laughing in the face of the Betis fans!"

Eventually, the fans were invited to talk to Mel and the club captains. A group of them headed into the manager's office for a "chat". "We had to talk to them," Mel said the next day, "or else they would have stopped the session." He had little choice.

That was one version of events. In the presidential offices, the club had a different view; an institutional communiqué insisting that if the ultras were there it was because someone had let them be there hinted at a division. Private messages made it explicit: the relationship between board and manager is strained, virtually broken, and this week has made it worse. Rather than seeing an act of leadership in his public accountability, some implied that Mel had engineered the meeting to get fans on his side and strengthen his position, to make him the good guy, the one listening to the fans, the one who cares.

If that makes sacking him harder, it was already far from simple. Betis are still in administration: every fortnight, a formal report gets sent to the courts and any decision must be explicitly recommended and signed off, responsibility claimed in writing. And that's a responsibility no one wants to take.

Not least because even his detractors recognise that Mel has been successful, that he has carried Betis a long way. In the midst of a power vacuum, he led the club to a brilliant promotion to La Liga. A creditable 13th-place finish followed, playing some lovely football. Then they finished 7th, and in a European place.

They started this season with a hugely impressive performance against Real Madrid, despite losing 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu, and they defeated Valencia 3-1, with Salva Sevilla scoring twice and making the other. Slick and sharp.

But there was trouble ahead. Sevilla has made just four starts and this summer 14 players left – among them, the central midfield trio of Cañas, Beñat Exteberría and Rubén Pérez. Add to that the fact Betis have been without the injured Rubén Castro, last season's top-scorer, who has played only 22 minutes in the league (during which time he scored).

Fourteen players came in for a total cost of €4.3m. On the face of it there were some exciting signings – Joan Verdú, especially, and Cedrick, who blew everyone away at the Bernabéu. But one signing needs time to settle, let alone 14.

Betis were heading into Europe, too, via a Europa League qualifying round. And that's not always a good sign: last time they played in Europe, in 2006, they finished 14th after a fourth-place finish the year before. So Mel rotated and it didn't work; the squad is short, resources shorter and the season long. Defeat to Málaga was Betis's 17th game already this season, and their third in a disastrous week.

Talking points

• Another game, two more assists for Gareth Bale: the first, a superb right-footed cross for Karim Benzema to head home, the second a swift robbery of the ball and neat pullback for Cristiano Ronaldo that destroyed the Rayo Vallecano full-back Arbilla. Taken off almost immediately after, he sat and sobbed on the bench. Rayo, though, responded. Perhaps in part because, by then, Xabi Alonso, back after injury and playing for the first time this season, was on the bench too. With him went Real's control. "The second half was a disaster," Carlo Ancelotti said. Two penalties from Jonathan Viera – the first following an awesome bit of skill, the second after an oafish challenge from Marcelo – made it 3-2. The team with the annual budget of €7m was steamrollering the team with the annual budget of over €500m, racking up 23 shots and missing some incredible chances. But the equaliser just wouldn't come. After the game, Ancelotti applauded the Rayo manager, Paco Jémez, and asked if he wouldn't mind letting him watch him train one day.

• Ronaldo scored one and sent another flying into the crowd, where it hit a young girl – a Rayo fan aged around 12 or 13. The Portuguese gave her his shirt by way of apology and she was delighted. If that was classy, what followed was not. Soon some supporters round the girl started chanting for her to "burn it" and eventually the shirt was handed to a security guard, the girl forced to give it up. Pathetic.

• Goal of the week: Pabón scored a rocket as Valencia beat Getafe 1-0. But probably the week's best goal came late, very late, in Granada's trip to Levante. Thanks to a floodlight failure, the game went on almost quarter of an hour longer than it should have done and in the 19th minute, about the time that Betis and Málaga were kicking-off at the Rosaleda, Granada got a free-kick. Piti lined up by the ball while his team-mate Iturra stood in front of the goalkeeper trying to put him off. Piti's free kick flew into the corner. "Standing in front of the goalkeeper blocks the view of the goalkeeper, but that's perfectly legal, according to a circular we got sent earlier this season," said Caparrós, the Levante manager, shrugging.

• The daftest goal of the week was Celta's – handed to them by Sevilla keeper Beto, who played the ball straight to Alex López.

• "Is it really so difficult to break the line of pressure that Atlético apply?" came the question. Ernesto Valverde, the Athletic Bilbao manager, paused slightly and then replied: "Yes. Mucho." Later he said: "I see a huge gap between the top three and everyone else." Diego Simeone's team were sensational again, beating Athletic 2-0 with goals from David Villa and Diego Costa. There was another assist for Koke, too. The only surprise was that it ended 2-0. The shots on target count read: 8-0. "Costa is enormous in every way," Simeone said.

• Suso shouldn't have been playing this weekend. He was one of 10 players who picked up a fifth, suspension-inducing yellow card during week 11 but none of those cards could be ratified by the competition committee on Friday. Why? Because it was a bank holiday and they were having a day off. Even though there was a game in the LF"P": Barcelona were playing Espanyol. And so it was that on Saturday night, Suso provided the cross from which Rodri headed (and for "head" read "hand") in the winner. Almería had waited 11 weeks for their first victory; now they have picked up two in three days. It shouldn't have taken this long: they really haven't been playing badly at all.

• Almost twice as many fans turned up for Oviedo versus Racing in the Second Division B, Spain's third to seventh tier, as turned up for a European clash between Getafe and Valencia at the Coliseum. The same Coliseum Ángel Torres, the Getafe president, wants to swap for a 30,000-seat stadium. Racing won 3-2.

Results: Barcelona 1-0 Espanyol, Real Sociedad 5-0 Osasuna, Almería 1-1 Valladolid, Rayo 2-3 Real Madrid, Sevilla 0-1 Celta, Getafe 0-1 Valencia, Atlético Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao, Levante 0-1 Granada, Málaga 3-2 Real Betis. Monday night: Elche v Villarreal

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