The Spanish Segunda Division has reached its halfway stage and one thinks that Betis represents good value to win the second-tier championship under its prodigal son, Pepe Mel.
Mel endured a terrible five months at English Premier League side West Bromwich, winning three, drawing six and losing eight of the 17 Baggies matches that he coached before he left The Hawthorns by mutual consent less than one third into his contract. West Bromwich avoided relegation to the English Championship by the skin of its teeth, finishing three points ahead of the third bottom team, Norwich.
Betis had parted company with Mel in December 2013 but it was a decision that the Green and Whites regretted because they lost their Spanish Primera Division membership card in spite of changing coaches. Mel, who played more than 100 games for Betis in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had led Betis to the 2011 Spanish Segunda Division title and seventh spot in the 2013 Spanish Primera Division before a bad run of results, including a 4-0 loss to deadly rival Sevilla, cost him his job after three and a half years at the helm.
When Betis officials were frustrated with their side’s start to the Spanish Segunda Division – the Green and Whites were sixth in the final week of November – they showed the door to Julio Velazquez. Juan Merino assumed the position of Betis caretaker manager, lifting the Green and Whites to fourth place on the Spanish Segunda Division ladder before Mel agreed to return on a short-term contract. Now Betis is second on the Spanish Segunda Division ladder, three points behind Las Palmas but, crucially, occupying one of the two automatic promotion spot with a two-point gap to Valladolid.
That Betis is a legitimate Spanish Segunda Division title contender in spite of being on its third coach of the season is remarkable and testament to the playing talent on the books of the Green and Whites. Betis has taken 10 points from its first four Spanish Segunda Division games under Mel, including a last-start 2-1 win at previously unbeaten Gijon in which the Green and Whites came from behind.
Several bookmakers are betting on the destiny of the Spanish Segunda Division championship and one thinks that Betis is over the odds at +300 with 888Sport, BetVictor and Unibet. One has three main reasons for liking Betis at its odds.
First, Betis is in a good head space right now – think of Mel’s return as the perfect Christmas for 99 per cent of Green and Whites fans. Betis lifted the Spanish Segunda Division trophy during Mel’s first spell and there is a feeling that history is about to repeat itself.
Second, Betis boasts far and away the largest home crowds in the Spanish Segunda Division, with its average gate of just 30,000 people being almost double that of Gijon. Betis is the best resourced Spanish Segunda Division team and never underestimate the importance of supporters at the business end of a campaign, particularly in a league such as the Spanish Segunda Division in which referees are card happy.
And third, Betis has the softest schedule in the second half of the Spanish Segunda Division season. Betis will play only one other Spanish Segunda Division top-seven side away from home between now and the end of the competition and that will be Las Palmas in the 29th round of games. No other Spanish Segunda Division title contender has a program to match that of Betis, which has road trips remaining to Las Palmas (1st), Mirandes (8th), Numancia (10th), Mallorca (11th), Alaves (14th), Tenerife (15th), Barcelona II (17th), Santander (18th), Huelva (20th) and Albacete (22nd).
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