Shall we get the negative stuff out of the way first? Betis were clearly second-best in Vallecas yesterday, and are also likely to lose their next game, away to a formidable Atlético Madrid side on Sunday evening. All of a sudden they look exhausted, short of options and low on confidence.
But that's not to say it's all doom and gloom in the south Seville barrio of Heliópolis. Far from it. After the season's final game against Atleti, Pepe Mel will have a full eight days to prepare his side for the visit of Valladolid, who Betis have already beaten twice this season, and by then the likes of Juan Carlos, Pozuelo, Alex Martínez, Paulao and Mario should all be back in contention for a starting spot. Nosa will be back from South Africa, Molins will be a couple of weeks further into his integration period and the weariness engendered by those seven January games should have been largely overcome. Let's not panic.
And that's more or less what Pepe Mel said after yesterday's game. "We've got 35 points [still level on points with fourth-placed Málaga] and that's something to be proud of," he suggested. "That's the message I want to the half of Seville who listen to me. We're doing well - so much so, in fact, that we're still above Rayo, who beat us today...It's important to be positive."
Although he admitted that Rayo's greater intensity won the day yesterday, he also pointed out that had his forwards taken one of the chances that came their way, the shape of the game might have been different. "The important thing is that we're still creating opportunities to score," he said. "Even in the cup at the Vicente Calderón we showed we were capable of making five or six chances, something that doesn't usually happen there. But for us what's not usual is that we didn't even take one of them."
So, even if things do get worse (briefly) before they get better, I think we can agree that at least they definitely will get better, a guarantee that about 12 other Primera clubs would settle for.
l Whatever happens to Betis over the few weeks, it will do so without the help of Nelson, who has been allowed to leave six months before the end of his contract to sign a two-and-a-half year deal with Palermo of Italy. The 29-year-old right-back joined Betis in summer 2008 and was therefore one of the last remaining footballing links to the Lopera era - which might be why Pepe Mel never quite seemed to trust him. He'll be remembered for a spectacular winning goal in the last minute of the home game against Athletic Bilbao last February, but has mostly been slightly disappointing in a Betis shirt and probably played his best football of his time with the club in the 2010/11 season, which he spent on loan to Osasuna.
l Also unavailable for at least the next three months is young Eder Vilarchao, who today had an operation on his fractured knee. You have to feel sorry for him - he makes a very promising debut for the first-team and within two weeks has picked up a long-term injury. That must be hard for a 22-year-old to take.