Real Betis were dealt a tough Europa League last 16 draws against Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United but the Spanish side are in good hands when it comes to facing the Red Devils.
Former Manchester City coach Manuel Pellegrini has curated an impressive record against the Premier League giants and will believe he can mastermind another victory over Barcelona’s conquerors in the play-off round.
Pellegrini and Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti exchanged words after their sides shared a 0-0 draw on Sunday in La Liga, joking about Liverpool’s emphatic 7-0 victory over Manchester United at Anfield earlier on.
The Chilean will be the happier of the two, ahead of Thursday’s first leg visit to Old Trafford, while Ancelotti’s Madrid must now host a Liverpool side with a newfound spring in their step in the Champions League next week.
Pellegrini, at Manchester City between 2013-2016, and later at West Ham, has only suffered defeat three times in 13 clashes with United, and will look to capitalise on their shock defeat and dented confidence.
He has earned five wins and five draws, becoming the first-ever coach to defeat four different Man United managers in the Premier League — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and David Moyes.
Pellegrini also shared four goalless draws with Alex Ferguson’s United in the Champions League, while at Villarreal.
Hopes are high at Betis that Pellegrini and his team can cause an upset.
“We have to face them, be humble, play with personality and make it a complicated tie (for them),” said Betis team manager Alexis Trujillo.
“One of the important factors is playing the second game with the support of the fans and knowing what we have to do to eliminate our opponents.
“Betis fans should be happy with the magnitude of the tie. We have to do well at Old Trafford and keep our hopes high in the first leg to see if we can go through in the return.”
– Engineer –
Known as the “Engineer” because of the civil engineering degree he studied in Chile, Pellegrini impressed on Spain’s east coast between 2004-2009, driving his Juan Riquelme-inspired Villarreal to the Champions League semi-finals in 2006 and finishing second in La Liga in 2008.
After stints at Real Madrid — finishing second again in the league — and Malaga, Pellegrini took over at Man City, winning the Premier League in 2014, beating Liverpool to the title.
He was chosen by former Barcelona directors Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano as the man to keep Pep Guardiola’s seat warm.
After leaving in 2016, he spent two years at Hebei China Fortune and returned to England with West Ham, before taking over at Real Betis in 2020 — his 15th club.
The coach guided Betis to their first silverware since 2005 against Valencia in last year’s Copa del Rey final, playing creative, attacking football but also showing backbone.
Madrid hit that wall on Sunday, unable to break down the Andalusians in Pellegrini’s 100th match in La Liga.
Betis were without injured creative stars Nabil Fekir and Sergio Canales, but the latter is set to return on Thursday after injury, back in training on Monday with his team-mates.
Canales said he was keen to feature in the European clash.
“The three points against Madrid are like the three against Villarreal or Mallorca that will come later, the Manchester United game is different, because one result affects the whole competition,” explained the playmaker last week.
“In La Liga I am calmer and I know there’s a long way to go and I’ll get back to 100 percent.”
Despite United’s humiliation at Anfield, Ten Hag’s side are still favourites against Betis, littered with stars including Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro.
Pellegrini believes the Madrid draw shows Betis can compete with any team, even if most of his squad by contrast is unknown outside of Spain.
“The team is always working to improve, there are always players missing for different reasons and those who are fit have to push on,” said the coach.
“For a long time this team has been (competitive), no matter who they are playing against. Today Madrid did a lot, it was a fair draw — but the best chances were ours.”