Saturday, September 30

Pellegrini and Simeone meet again with Champions League qualification on the line – Football Espana

The reigning champions can leapfrog this weekend’s rivals with a win but are up against a side gunning for their best finish in two decades.

With just 12 games to go, every point on offer between now and the end of the campaign is more crucial than ever. And it couldn’t be more true for Real Betis and Atlético de Madrid, who meet in a six-pointer this weekend at the Benito Villamarín, facing off in a match that could go a long way towards determining LaLiga’s representatives in the Champions League next season.

Ahead of Sunday’s 9pm CET kick-off, Real Betis are third on 46 points and Atleti fifth on 45 points, so an away victory would propel Diego Simeone’s side into the top four and ahead of their hosts.

Atlético have become a Champions League regular under El Cholo Simeone, finishing inside the top three of LaLiga Santander every year since 2012/13, the Argentine’s first full season in charge. Real Betis boss Manuel Pellegrini, meanwhile, is tasked with bringing his new club back to the Champions League after a 17-year absence.

Of the current coaches in LaLiga Santander, only Deportivo Alavés’ José Luis Mendilibar has coached more top-flight games than Pellegrini (396) and Simeone (391), so these are two of the most experienced coaches in the division.

The two South American tacticians have skill to go with their longevity, having built two of the most tactically disciplined teams in the country. Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1 has allowed Real Betis’ attacking talents like Nabil Fekir and Juanmi to flourish in a system that provides sufficient balance, while Simeone can switch his side between a back four and a back three formation and can mould his players to fit new positions. Renan Lodi is an example of that, with the left-back scoring two goals last weekend from a left wing position.

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It really should be a fascinating battle when these two teams go up against each other under the Sunday night lights, because of the footballing show these outfits are capable of putting on and because the stakes are so high.

Just one Atleti loss to Betis since Simeone took over

It was an Atlético defeat against Real Betis in December 2011 that proved to be former coach Gregorio Manzano’s final LaLiga Santander match in charge of Los Rojiblancos, freeing up the dugout for Simeone to make history in the capital.

Since then, there have been 20 meetings between the clubs. Simeone has picked up 14 victories, with five draws and just one defeat. In their most recent meeting earlier this season Atleti won 3-0 at a rain-sodden Wanda Metropolitano thanks to goals from Yannick Carrasco, João Félix and an own goal.

It should be kept in mind, though, that Real Betis were missing several starters that day, including star man Nabil Fekir. This weekend should be a different prospect, especially with Real Betis playing at home.

While Simeone has won all four of his home clashes against Pellegrini during their LaLiga Santander coaching careers, across the 68-year-old’s spells at Málaga CF and Real Betis, the Argentine has never won away at the Chilean’s place. On all three occasions when Pellegrini has been in the home dugout and Simeone over on the away bench, the game has finished as a draw.

Dropped points that propelled Atleti to the title

One of Simeone’s draws away at a Pellegrini team came in this fixture last season, when Real Betis and Atlético played out a thrilling 1-1 draw last April. Although Atleti missed several late chances to take a victory, the fact they failed to win that day actually helped them go on and win the 2020/21 title.

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Ángel Correa missed some of the clearest opportunities in that draw and, after the full-time whistle, Simeone hugged the winger in what became an iconic image. That emotional moment of support from coach to player made the next day’s front pages and it truly helped Correa, who scored five goals over the final eight matches of that season as Los Colchoneros finished top.

This year, as Atlético de Madrid return to Seville as reigning champions, they have a different objective, with the aim being to secure Champions League football. They’ll hope that the Benito Villamarín can once again pave the way to a successful end of the season.

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