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01 Feb 2018

La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 22: Real Betis vs Villarreal– Lineups, Preview and Prediction

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15:15GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Estadio Benito Villamarin (Seville, Spain)

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Last Time Out

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Real Betis Lineup

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Villarreal Lineup

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Key Battle: Javi Garcia (Real Betis) vs Pablo Fornals (Villarreal)

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Talking Points

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Prediction: Real Betis 1-2 Villarreal

(Photo credit: Brian Clough)

15:15GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Estadio Benito Villamarin (Seville, Spain)

Quique Setien's side have been one of the league's great entertainers this season. Only five sides have scored more goals and only two sides have conceded more times this season. This has come at a cost, however, and mid-table mediocrity is looming once again. Real Betis have shown signs of resurgence after some truly troubling form in December. 

They have won three of their last six games in La Liga, yet have still conceded fourteen goals in that time. Their recent 0-5 loss to Barcelona provided a demonstration of just how brittle they are in defence. Betis can beat anyone on their day. At their worst they are little more than a free-shot and a chance for opposition sides to boost their own goal difference. 

Villarreal have been in fantastic form of late, winning five of their last six league games. Their 0-1 triumph away against Real Madrid provided the hardest evidence yet of their top four credentials. Yellow Submarine are currently one point behind fourth-placed Real and only three ponts behind Valencia in third. 

They are beginning to play with real confidence and look set to return to the European top table.  The arrival of 34-year-old Javi Fuego from Espanyol will bring another experienced head to this ambitious young side. 

Last Time Out

Celta Vigo 3-2 Real Betis (La Liga)

Betis were second-best for the majority of Monday night's clash. Despite seeing a lot of the ball, they simply could not keep their opponents at bay. The visitors looked like conceding every time Celta came forward. If Betis continue to defend like this then even their mid-table status may come under threat. 

A defensive error from Javi Garcia allowed Iago Aspas to score after only 12 minutes, giving the home side a half-time lead.

17 minutes after the break, Maxi Gomez doubled the scoreline following some brilliant work from Jonny. 

Real Betis, to their credit, continued to battle, and Sergio Leon grabbed a goal back after 71 minutes. It was, however, quickly cancelled out by another Iago Aspas strike, eight minutes later. 

A late penalty score for Andres Guardado proved little consolation for the away side. 

Villarreal 4-2 Real Sociedad (La Liga)

A blistering first 20 minutes from Villarreal was enough to see off any opposition from Real Sociedad. A strange game saw five goals scored in the first half, including four for the home side. The visitors dominated possession, yet simply could not recover from the early damage caused by some brilliant attacking play from Villarreal. 

A header from Victor Ruiz gave the home side the lead after five minutes. This was followed by goals from Pablo Fornals and Carlos Bacca, to make in 3-0 after only 21 minutes. 

Diego Llorente managed to hit back when he headed in from a Asier Illaramendi free-kick in the 24th minute. 

Any hope of a comeback was snuffed out ten minutes later after a fine goal from Samu Castillejo to make in 4-1. 

Willian Jose scored ten minutes after half-time, but Villarreal held out comfortably for the remainder. 

Real Betis Lineup

Quique Setien will continue to do without the attacking talents of Antonio Sanabria (meniscus) who looks unlikely to return until May.

Striker Joel Campbell (knee) is back in training but still a few days away from returning to match fitness. 

Joaquin will miss out through suspension having reached the yellow card limit against Celta Vigo. 

In more positive news, new signing Marc Bartra should make his debut at centre-back. 

Villarreal Lineup

Javi Calleja will be unable to call upon the services of Nicola Sansone (calf) as he is still a few weeks away from making a return from injury.

Centre back Ruben Semedo (thigh) is out until March and goalkeeper Andres Fernandez (cruciate ligament) is also unlikely to return until next month.

Leonardo Suarez (cruciate ligament) remains a long-term injury absentee. 

Key Battle: Javi Garcia (Real Betis) vs Pablo Fornals (Villarreal)

30-year-old Javi Garcia is in some of the worst form of his career. Given the role of protecting the defence, Garcia has struggled to assert any kind of control in the midfield. Against both Barcelona and Celta Vigo, the ex-Real Madrid and Manchester City player was completely overwhelmed. 

He was signed last summer from Zenit St Petersburg to provide some experience and control to Real Betis. At present, he looks completely shot of confidence and that nervousness appears to be filtering through to the rest of his teammates. 

Garcia will have to be at his very best on Saturday if he is to stop Pablo Fornals. The 21-year-old is emerging as one of Spanish football's brightest talents. He has three goals and seven assists this season. Only Pione Sisto and Lionel Messi have provided more goals. 

Fornals combines positional intelligence with a wonderful array of passing, making him the key creative engine in this Villarreal side. To stop Yellow Submarine playing, the opponent must first work out a way to stop Fornals from finding the space to express himself. 

Talking Points

Can Bartra restore some kind of defensive order to Real Betis?

The first priority for Quique Setien this transfer window will have been to secure the services of a proven top-flight defender. The signing of Marc Bartra from Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga fits the bill perfectly. The 27-year-old centre back was looking for a Spanish club to allow him to return to his homeland after finding it hard to resettle after suffering an injury when the Dortmund team coach was attacked last April. 

Bartra began his career at Barcelona's famous La Masia academy. In Catalonia, he won five La Liga titles and his form earnt him a spot in Spain's EURO 2016 squad. The signing of a  player with such experience is something of a coup for a club of Real Betis' current stature. Setien will hope that he can inspire some much-needed defensive resilience in his squad. 

Villarreal's midfield three are looking much more settled

Much has been made of Villarreal's potency in attack this season, yet the real foundations of their success are the displays of their regular midfield trio. Samu Castillejo, 23, Rodri, 21, and Manu Trigueros, 26, appear to have a seamless understanding with one another and are all calm and composed in possession. 

Their youthful energy has been more than a match for some of the league's more celebrated midfields. Against Real Madrid, they were comfortable against the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Of the three, Castillejo has been particularly impressive, scoring two goals and providing four assists this season. If all three players can maintain their form until the end of May then Yellow Submarine may well find themselves in the top four.

Prediction: Real Betis 1-2 Villarreal

Real Betis are in complete disarray at the back. The addition of Bartra should have a positive impact, yet the problems go far deeper and one player can only change so much. Villarreal are on a high and their pacy attack should find plenty of space behind a fragile Betis defence. 

Can Villarreal make the leap into the top four?Let us know in the comments section below...