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Albion v Betis - lowdown on today's test (with video)
Albion are stepping up their preparations for the new season on two fronts.
The quality of the opposition is about to increase and so too, by necessity, will the size of Sami Hyypia’s squad in the 23 days remaining before Sheffield Wednesday’s opening visit to the Amex.
Hyypia was able to field only 14 players with first team experience in the first game of the Spanish tour, Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Partick Thistle.
Leo Ulloa and Kazenga LuaLua joined long-term victim Andrew Crofts on the injured list, while Dale Stephens has been left behind to continue his rehab.
The signing of Aaron Hughes has been offset for tonight’s second outing in Pinatar against Real Betis (6pm BST) by the absence of Lewis Dunk with a minor ankle problem.
The perception a year ago was that Albion were behind the ball game when Oscar Garcia was appointed as Gus Poyet’s successor, yet Oscar had more senior players available for his first friendly in Spain against Getafe.
It is too early to panic but the closer it gets to the start of the season proper the less time Hyypia will have to integrate new signings and the more likely it is that those arriving will not necessarily be first choice targets.
Hyypia needs, in order of priority, a goalkeeper, at least one striker, a left-back, another winger and a creative midfielder.
Pre-season results are immaterial. For the towering Finn it is all about being ready for Sheffield Wednesday on August 9.
Albion’s on-field inconveniences pale in comparison to the problems of tonight’s opponents.
Real Betis were on a roll in 2012-13 under Pepe Mel. They finished seventh in La Liga and qualified for the Europa League.
It all fell apart last season. A tearful Mel was sacked in December, with Betis a point adrift at the foot of the table, prior to his brief reign at West Brom.
The situation got worse under Juan Carlos Garrido. He lasted 47 days and Argentinian Gabriel Calderon, who steered Saudi Arabia to the 2006 World Cup finals, could not halt the decline as Betis finished adrift at the bottom.
Reaching the quarter-finals of the Europa League offered a crumb of consolation, until they were knocked out by local rivals Sevilla.
They have been in administration since 2010 with a debt of over £70 million, now reduced to under £24 million.
Julio Velazquez Santiago, at the tender managerial age of 32, has the task of resurrecting the fortunes of Betis in the Segunda Division after guiding Real Murcia to the play-offs last season.
He has gone back to his old club to sign right-back Francisco Molinero. A flurry of free transfer captures also included goalkeeper Dani Giménez, left-back Jorge Casado, striker Dani Pachecho and Bruno, a centre-back from Tenerife rather than his Albion namesake.
Betis are desperate to win their fans back after a dismal 2013-14 season
French-born Poland international Damien Perquis has agreed a contract extension and wage cut, full-back Juanfran has rejected a move to the Seagulls’ Championship rivals Middlesbrough and Senegalese midfielder Alfred N’Diaye is poised for a cut price return from Gus Poyet’s Sunderland for around £1.6 million after spending half of last season on loan at Betis.
They are in England for a friendly at Stoke on August 6, by which time the shape of Hyypia’s squad should be a lot clearer.
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