Real Betis vs Levante Preview

on January 12 2013 10:03 AM
Real Betis vs Levante Preview

This fixture marks the half-way point in the league campaign of both Real Betis and Levante, and each club will be looking to continue their good starts to the season in a bid to secure European qualification. With 18 games played, just a solitary point separates these two sides, and fifth-placed Betis trail Malaga - currently holding La Liga's Europa League spot - only on goal difference.

Betis come into this game on the back of good yet unpredictable form: Pepe Mel's men recorded excellent away wins against Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo in December, and won 2-1 at Real Zaragoza in their last game, but have also recently been beaten at home by strugglers Real Mallorca and were held in the Copa Del Rey by mid-table second-tier outfit UD Las Palmas.

Levante's fortunes have been similarly mixed: their last five results read "Lost, Won, Lost, Won, Lost"; while comfortable wins over Mallorca and Athletic Bilbao in the last month suggest a free-flowing, efficient attack, recent 0-1 and 0-3 reverses at the hands of Real Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano respectively show they have a tendency to blow hot and cold in front of goal.

The form book fails to separate the two sides on paper, then, and each club has its own problem to overcome if European football is to be achieved. Betis' financial woes, coupled with their relatively rapid rise to success - the club only won promotion to the top-flight in 2010-11 - has resulted in a January transfer window where Betis will look to hang on to their stars more than anything. Chelsea, under new manager Rafael Benitez, are reportedly planning to trigger midfielder Beñat's £16 million release clause, while fellow Premier League side Swansea City are locked in talks with Betis over Jose Cañas. His playing squad under siege from richer clubs, manager Mel has also attracted interest himself, being linked with the Aston Villa job since the new year following Paul Lambert's disastrous results in the English top flight and League Cup. 

Levante, for their part, have no such transfer problems and look set to hold onto their main men; instead, The Frogs are combining their league efforts with an exhaustive Europa League campaign that has already seen the team travel to Holland, Germany, Sweden and Scotland, with a two-leg tie against Greek giants Olympiakos looming on the horizon. Levante's cluttered fixture list could be their undoing in their bid to challenge the league's big guns - defeat to Olympiakos could be a blessing in disguise as the 2012-13 draws to a close.

Betis will be hoping that Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell can continue his recent good form on Sunday. The Costa Rica star initially struggled to make an impact in Spain, with Betis' coaching staff reportedly angered by the forward's tendency to prize international football over the club game, but Campbell finally hit form in December. A bit-part player at the start of the season, a superb winning goal from 30 yards against Deportivo was the catalyst for a run of starts, and he also teed up Ruben Castro for Betis' first goal in the 2-1 win at Zaragoza last week. 

Although he has benefitted from Campbell's involvement, Castro had hardly struggled to hit the net without the youngster's help: the veteran attacker has netted 10 times this season in just 16 league starts, and boasts an incredible record of 9 goals in his last eleven appearances in all competitions. With Beñat and Cañas pulling the strings in midfield, Betis' attack looks likely to cause Levante problems.

Although Levante don't lack firepower themselves - former Inter Milan striker Obafemi Martins has a record of a goal-every-other-game in La Liga this season - the side are short of quality back-up for the Nigerian; indeed, after Martins, Levante's next top scorer has just two goals. Thankfully, goalkeeper Gustavo Munúa boasts a better clean sheet record than Barcelona's Victor Valdes in 2012-13, and Levante are one of La Liga's better teams defensively.

Overall, fans can expect a close match with seemingly little to separate the sides; home advantage and a more potent strikeforce may see Betis edge proceedings - assuming they manage to hang on to their key players before kick-off.

Prediction: Real Betis 2-1 Levante (Campbell, Beñat; Juanlu)