I've seen this afternoon's League Cup Final at London's Wembley Stadium - in which Premier League Swansea beat fourth-tier Bradford City 5-0 - described as a mismatch, but I don't believe it can have been any more one-sided than the game I've just got back from. Betis didn't just beat Málaga this evening, they marmalised them. From minute 1, when Jorge Molina cleverly glanced in a Beñat corner, to minute 90, by which time the Málaga players were visibly begging the referee to blow the final whistle, Betis were sensational - sharper, brighter and hungrier than their more illustrious opponents. The visitors might complain that they had a Champions League game in midweek, but it was still hugely encouraging that Betis were able to make this advantage tell. At times Pepe Mel's men were so much the better side it was almost embarrassing.
It's a cliché to say of games like this, when one team is three-up at half-time, that it could easily have been six - but tonight it was completely true. In addition to the goals - Molina's opener, a thunderous Mario header from another Beñat corner on 27 minutes, and a fine finish from Pabón after his glancing header from a sublime Beñat pass was initially saved just before half-time - there were a host of near misses. Molina hit the underside of the bar with a penalty (for handball) and was unlucky that neither the referee nor his assistant spotted that the ball had crossed the line on the rebound; the same player missed another one-on-one with Caballero and at least one more good opportunity from inside the area; and there were decent chances for Juan Carlos, Pabón and Joel Campbell.
Málaga, meanwhile, could absolutely nothing about the ferocious Betis pressing. Cañas charged around like a man possessed, Beñat put in his most energetic all-round performance for weeks, and all the front four - Juan Carlos, Molina, Pabón and Campbell - expended as much energy in defensive duties as they did going forward. It was mightily impressive to watch.
In truth, the second half was much less exciting. Betis still had a few sights of goal on the break, and there was a certain amount of cruel fun to be had from the red card (for two indisputable yellows) of defensive midfielder Camacho, but basically both teams seemed happy to settle for 3-0. Pozuelo and young Sergio Rodríguez both offered very confident little cameos as late subs, but Rubén Castro didn't even need to take his tracksuit off. Strictly speaking Betis could have done with another goal to equalise the 4-0 of the away game (which will be the first consideration if the teams finish level on points), but that's not nearly as important as a first win in six games and perhaps the best 45 minutes of the whole season.
In such a complete team performance, it's hard to single out one player in particular, but my personal Man of the Match would probably be Dorlan Pabón. Sniffing around alongside Jorge Molina in the centre of attack, he looked a completely different player from the rather frustrated figure we've seen out on the wing in recent weeks. With his energy and commitment, he was the epitome of the phrase "leading from the front", and gave the Málaga defence way more to think about than Betis's opponents have been used to in recent weeks. And when you see a striker - who, you'll remember, is only with us for six months - charging back to help out as an emergency cover in the left-back area, you can only applaud his professionalism. And hey - nice goal.
The only bad part? The three points are only enough to lift us one measly place up the table into seventh. But still - there's only one thing that's really important right now: Betis are back. And how.
Betis: Adrián; Ángel, Mario, Amaya, Nacho; Beñat, Cañas; J. Carlos (Pozuelo, m. 73), Campbell (Sergio Rodríguez, m. 78); Jorge Molina (Nono, m. 85) y Pabón.
Goals: 1-0, min.1: Jorge Molina; 2-0, min. 26: Mario; 3-0, min 45: Pabón.