After a successful 2017/18 campaign, Real Betis brought in Sergio Canales to add even more midfield creativity to their squad. The former Real Madrid prodigy quickly became the centre in Quique Setien’s system, making them one of the most attractive teams in La Liga. However, Rubi has become Los Verdiblancos’ new manager. The former Espanyol man will come with a similar brand of football, but with notable differences. In this scout report, we will use tactical analysis to demonstrate Canales’ key attributes, and what role he will play in Rubi’s system. 

Style of play

Canales mainly plays as an attacking midfielder, but he can play as a central mid or a wide midfielder as well. In his attacking midfielder position, he is given license to orchestrate Betis’ attack with his wide range of passing skills, dribbling and long shots while hiding his physical and defensive weaknesses. Looking at the heatmap, we can see that he mostly operates around the right half-space of the middle third. His stamina doesn’t allow him to run from box to box. This kind of heatmap can also be one of a right midfielder – his expected position in new coach Rubi’s system.

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Canales’ 2018/19 heatmap.

According to Whoscored, Canales is good with ball retention, dribbling, long shots and taking set-pieces. He excels in various types of passes, most notably crossing and key passes. However, he is not a good tackler and is bad at aerials.

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Canales’ Whoscored characteristics.

How will Canales be used in Rubi’s four-man system?

Canales was mostly used as an attacking midfielder in the 3-5-2 or the 3-4-2-1 formation under Setien. However, Rubi has consistently used a four-man defence. In Betis’ first two La Liga matches this season, they play in a 4-2-3-1 against Real Valladolid and a 4-4-1-1 against Barcelona, with Nabil Fekir playing behind sole striker Loren Moron on both occasions. It seems that Fekir will occupy the attacking midfielder/second striker position. He’s more direct, less involved in his team’s play, but provides more goal/assist output than Canales. 

Canales will be the man orchestrating his team attack as a right midfielder. He can cut inside at will and produce short combinations with Fekir and the striker, or stay wide and swing quality crosses into the box. Rubi’s Espanyol had focused on utilising set-pieces and crosses. In Canales, the Spanish manager now has a player who excels in both these types of attack. Last season, he provided seven key passes from set-pieces. 

He is also a very good crosser, providing 1.83 per 90 with an impressive 40.3% accuracy. In the example below, he swung a difficult cross onto the far post towards the run of Sidnei, who headed the ball back for Moron to score.

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Canales’ second assist with a cross.

His areas of actions are expected to be similar to those when he played as an attacking midfielder last season – around the right half-space. His influence on the team’s build-up and attack, thus, will not be diminished. 

Contribution to the build-up

Like his predecessor, Rubi wants his team to play from the back. Canales is crucial to this style, as he drops deep to provide an extra passing option when needed. He will effectively leave space on the right wing for Emerson, Real Betis’ expressive right-back to exploit. The former Sociedad man is instrumental to Betis’s build-up. He can help the team by spraying pass forward or carrying the ball on his own. Only 24.7% of his 8.72 ball losses/90 occurred in his own half, which means he’s a reliable ball receiver in the first phase of build-up.


Canales is more than capable of progressing the ball by dribbling towards the centre to connect with the front players. He attempted 3.43 dribbles per 90, with a success rate of 58.2%. He also completed 2.92 progressive runs/90 mins.

Canales’s dropping deep leaves the opponent with a dilemma: either keeping his position and leave Betis build-up comfortably with a numerical advantage or following Canales and risks leaving large space behind. That space and be exploited by another Betis player or the man himself. In the example below, he quickly turned his body to bring the ball forward and get past the opponent’s midfielder. He could then run into the space that opponent left behind, and continued dribbling into the final third to connect with his teammates.

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Canales’ quick turn and dribble into the final third.

Quick progression 

Last season, he attempted 12.41 forward passes per 90, with a high accuracy of 40.4%. These forward passes are crucial to the team’s ball progression. 

Rubi is less rigid than Setien in the build-up phase. He doesn’t force his players to use short passes at all costs. Canales will have more opportunities to showcase his long passing range. Last season, he attempted 3.75 long balls per 90, at a 59.1% accuracy. He can set up attacks from deep with his lobbed passes.

In the example below, Canales took control of the ball and sent a long through ball towards the run of Moron to put the striker into a one-on-one with the keeper.

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Canales’ quick long through ball towards Moron.
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Moron got into a one-on-one position.

In Betis’ first two La Liga matches this season, speedster Tello was the one deployed on the left side. It is expected that he will be Betis’s left winger for the whole season. He doesn’t need to contribute a lot to the build-up. Betis often overloads the right-side and progresses the ball through short combinations. This will attract the opponent to that side and open up space for Tello to run into. In such cases, Canales has good awareness and passing skills to switch the ball to Tello’s side.

Here, Eibar tried to overload the ball-side to stop Betis’s build-up play. After escaping the press with some quick combinations in tight space, Canales realised Tello’s run into space. He quickly controlled the pass and launch the ball to the other flank.

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Canales’ switching play after some short combinations.

Here, he noticed Guardado’s quick run into the space behind Barcelona’s defence. His first-time pass immediately gave Betis a promising chance to score.

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Canales’ first-time pass towards Guardado.
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A 2v1 for Betis.

Here, receiving Pau Lopez’s goal kick, he used his first touch to escape the first defender. He then dribbled at great pace to beat his two men and provided a cut-back assist for Joaquin.

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Canales dribbled at pace to get past two opponents and provided an assist.


Rubi wants his team to facilitate quick attacks with fast transitions and quality counter mechanisms. Canales is a player suitable for those plays. He’s a creative passer with quick feet and excellent connection with his teammates.

Here, Canales quickly intercepted Busquets’ loose pass. He then shielded the ball from Rakitic, get past him with a quick round turn and passed to Moron, who’s running into the space between the lines. The situation ended with a goal for Betis.

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Canales’ interception, quick turn and pass.

The counter-attack happened within seven seconds. Canales was the one who started it, then showed his agility and great awareness to recognise his teammate’s movement into space to facilitate a quick transition.

Borja Iglesias is a player Rubi brought with him from Espanyol to add more damage to Betis’ counter-attacks. He often drops deeps and wide to link up with his teammates. We can expect quick combinations between Canales, Iglesias and Fekir. Moreover, Iglesias’ wide movements can stretch the opposition defence and see Canales moving inside to exploit the gaps. 

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Iglesias drifting wide on the counter to find space.


Canales is not a good player defensively. His main strength is intercepting the ball, with 2.14 interceptions per 90. However, Rubi uses a deeper, more organised pressing system than Setien’s high and aggressive counterpart. This will help him conserve his not-too-impressive stamina and intercept the ball more efficiently. 


This analysis has shown Canales’ wide range of talents and how he and Rubi’s tactics can be a match made in heaven. Despite star midfielder Fekir’s arrival, Canales will continue to be a key part of Betis’ system. He will be the metronome guiding them to new success.

Artwork by @chapulana

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