With Manchester United looking to add another trophy to their collection this season, Real Betis are the next obstacle they must overcome to achieve Europa League glory.
Erik ten Hag will no doubt be keen to put the weekend firmly in the past, and success this evening will help put the focus back on the Red Devils’ pursuit of silverware.
A clean sheet would be vital to the response and, with Betis posing some very specific threats, United must be clear in their defensive plan.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, Betis have become a far more patient side than has historically been the case.
That is borne out in their shooting statistics, which show that their attempts on goal have the second highest xG per shot in La Liga, with only Barcelona bettering them in that metric.
Pot shots from range are a rarity from Pellegrini’s side, with 21% of their attempts come just outside the six-yard box and in central positions. (The Athletic)
Betis are happy to work the ball into more dangerous areas and often rely on the dribbling ability of their attacking quartet to create opportunities.
Typically building up from wide areas of the pitch – only 21.3% of their attacking touches come in the central third – Los Verdiblancos cross with less frequency than all but one team in Spain’s top division.
That is their strategy in a nutshell: patient build up in wide areas to create space for a Sergio Canales or a Nabil Fekir to drive into, creating panic in opposition backlines in order to work high-value shooting opportunities.
Of course, Fekir has been ruled out of the rest of the season, Canales was a doubt before his inclusion in Betis’ travelling squad.
But that is unlikely to force a chance of strategy, with January signing Ayoze Perez and 22-year-old Brazilian livewire Luiz Henrique both in good form.
It is telling that Betis have won ten penalties this season – more than all but one side in Europe’s top five leagues – as it demonstrates the threat Pelligrini’s side poses when attacking the penalty box on the run.
Should he play from the start, Henrique may well end up being Betis’ greatest threat in this match.
The winger possesses electric pace to go with his bag of tricks and will demand focus from either Luke Shaw or Tyrell Malacia.
Betis’ wide threat is somewhat juxtaposed by their centre forward, Borja Iglesias. A real physical presence, the 30-year-old can be a danger as he drops deep to create space for the wingers before driving into the box.
While Betis rarely put crosses into the box, Borja’s physicality often gives him the edge in pouncing on rebounds courtesy of efforts from Luiz Henrique, Ayoze Perez et al.
United will need to be cautious in handling Betis’ wide players, while diligently denying space in front of their six-yard box if they are to keep the Spanish side quiet.