Quique Setien provides blueprint on how to beat Real Madrid

Real Madrid are left seven points off the top of the table, have lost their record streak of scoring in 73 competitive matches, lost Marcelo to injury, all by losing to Real Betis at home for the first time in 20 years to open their La Liga account with zero wins from three home games.

Zinedine Zidane told the world his favourite word after the game: Tranquilidad. Tranquility.

During the summer, the world spoke a lot about the crisis happening over Barcelona, but the Catalans have began their season with eight straight victories following the Spanish Super Cup losses to their rivals from the capital.

Just over a month after those Super Cup games, that storm cloud of crisis has blown west over the Bernabeu.

Full credit must go to Real Betis manager Quique Setien, whose particular brand of free-flowing yet structured football might be providing the world with the answers to what’s seemed an impossible riddle in recent times: how to beat Real Madrid.

Setien took his gun-slinging Las Palmas team to the home of the European champions last season and his troops that day put on a similarly well drilled performance.

That day, the islanders really should have won, but for Madrid to pull out some of the dramatic magic that defined their season last year, where a rallying victory felt inevitable in the dying moments of any game.

The game eventually finished 3-3, with ten-man Madrid pulling two late goals out of the bag to save themselves from an embarrassing defeat.

That day Las Palmas attacked from the first minute, and in Setien’s midweek meeting with Zidane’s giants, he employed similar tactics to even better results.

A high line of pressure ensured the Madrid midfield, who are now completely accustomed to running the show, never got a second to breathe. Real Betis pushed, won the ball high up the pitch, and made Madrid think a lot more about defending than attacking in the first half.

With their minds occupied on looking backwards so much, Madrid failed to get into their usual rhythm and with the scores still level going into the second half, a modicum of panic crept in.

Victor Camarasa and Antonio Sanabria almost had Betis 1-0 up in the early stages, combining well and forcing a goal-stopping clearance from Carvajal to keep his side level.

Former Barcelona man Cristian Tello found joy on the ball too, as Betis looked to attack on their left-hand side of the pitch.

This suffocation of the midfield left Isco and Modric looking very sub-par in comparison to their normal selves. Neither managed to get a foot on the ball and define the pace of the game in the first half.

After the break, Quique Setien’s blueprints can only go so far. With such a gulf in class in both team’s squads, to some degree it’s inevitable that the bigger team will have possession and create chances.

Betis were lucky that Madrid couldn’t find the back of the net in the second half, but Betis were focussed on their task, and – key to their victory – counterattacked with intelligence.

Rather than bursting as quickly as possible to the opposition goal, Betis looked to play their way out from the back at their own pace.

They wanted to keep the ball for as long as they could, because they knew they wouldn’t have very many chances of keeping it. 94 minutes pass by, and Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varance are caught flat-footed and ball watching, as Antonio Sanabria just needed to take a few steps backwards to find all the space he needed to head the ball into the corner of the net.

The defeat will come as a seismic shock to all those affiliated with Madrid. Not only are they not familiar with losing, they have now gone three league games in the Bernabeu and failed to score.

Ronaldo was back on the pitch for his first La Liga game of the season, and Madrid fail to score a goal for the first time since their 0-0 with Manchester City in the 2015/16 Champions League semi final.

“Last year we won some games that we didn’t deserve to, and this time it’s the reverse. This is football,” Zidane said to the press post game.

“No I don’t believe the Madridistas have reason to be worried. Today wasn’t a great game but this is football, we just have to accept it.”

He spoke in a typically Zidane, very calm and relaxed tone, providing his fans and his players a voice of reason on the microphone, a guiding direction that they will be alright despite this turbulent period where they may otherwise begin to question their identity.

He was doing his best to put out the fires, and he most certainly had fires to put out.

Other teams with eyes on beating Zidane’s outfit, including those within and outside of La Liga, can study how this Real Betis team frustrated Real Madrid and took advantage of the chances that came their way from suffocating the midfield.

And also…

It can’t be stressed enough just how much on another planet is Leo Messi.

Four goals against Eibar, helping his Barcelona team to a 6-1 win, nine goals in the league so far, 12 goals in eight games total – the Argentine is carrying his gigantic club on his back to some extent this season, but it doesn’t (yet) look like that weight is troubling him in the slightest.

With eight goals in two games over the last week, Valencia are underlining more and more in recent times how genuine they are.

A thumping 5-0 win over an admittedly pitiful Málaga side preceded a very impressive 3-2 win away to Real Sociedad over the weekend.

Marcelino’s methods are bringing a serious football team back to the Mestalla.

Vitolo signed for Atletico Madrid from Sevilla in the summer a day after telling fans he was going to renew his contract with the club, and then had to move straight to Las Palmas for the first half of the season thanks to Atleti’s transfer ban.

Thanks to the fixture list, he has to visit Sevilla twice this season with his two clubs, the first of those occasions coming during the midweek round of fixtures.

He was greeted with a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball and his evening was cut short due to injury.

“The fans were great tonight,” he still said after the game, probably hoping to restore diplomatic ties with a fanbase he’s gravely annoyed this summer.

Girona became home to another La Liga Catalan derby, for the first time ever this weekend, as they hosted Barcelona.

They became Barca’s seventh Catalan rivals in the league.

Fran Escribá has been fired as Villarreal‘s coach after a 4-0 drubbing away to his former side Getafe.

Alavés finally scored their first goal of the season – against double European champions and current title holders Real Madrid!

Madrid still ran out victorious though, thanks to two goals from a defensive midfielder of course.

Dani Ceballos hasn’t been given many minutes this season, but was the difference in this vital three points earned at Mendizorroza.

La Liga Week 5 Player of the Week: Valencia’s Simeone Zaza for his seven-minute hat-trick; the first of the season! Leo Messi netted the second hat-trick of the season two hours later…

La Liga Week 5 Goal of the Week: Levante’s Chema for this goal of the season contender.

La Liga Week 6 Player of the Week: Diego Rolan. Málaga earned their first point of the season thanks to a spirited fightback from 1-3 down to Athletic Bilbao! The Uruguayan winger looks to be a fantastic player the Andalusians have unearthed.

La Liga Week 6 Goal of the Week: Nacho Vidal. The Valencia youngster was part of a makeshift defence in Anoeta, and his deftly chipped finish over the onrushing Rulli handed Valencia a 2-1 lead at the time. Los Che would go on to win a hugely valuable three points.

Week 5 results: Valencia 5Malaga, Barcelona 6Eibar, Athletic Bilbao 1Atletico Madrid, Leganes 0Girona, Deportivo La Coruna, 1Alaves, Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis, Sevilla 1Las Palmas, Villarreal 0Espanyol, Celta Vigo 1Getafe, Levante 3Real Sociedad

Week 6 results: Atletico Madrid 2Sevilla, Alaves 1Real Madrid, Malaga 3Athletic Bilbao, Girona 0Barcelona, Espanyol 4-1 Deportivo La Coruna, Getafe 4Villarreal, Eibar 0Celta Vigo, Las Palmas 0Leganes, Real Sociedad 2Valencia, Monday night: Real Betis 4-0 Levante.

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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