La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-1 Real Betis: Match Review

Denis Doyle

A review of Barcelona's 4-1 La Liga win over Real Betis, as goals from Cesc Fabregas (2), Neymar and Pedro extended Barca's lead at the top of the table to three points

FC Barcelona capitalised on Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Villarreal CF at El Madrigal to extend their lead at the top of La Liga to three points with a comfortable 4-1 win over Real Betis. Despite a first-half injury to Lionel Messi, Barça were far too strong for Pep Mel’s last-place side, as goals from Cesc Fàbregas (2), Neymar and Pedro secured a valuable victory for the travelling Blaugrana.

Real Betis

Barcelona

Possession

43%

57%

Total Shots

16

11

Shots on Target

5

8

Pass Accuracy

74%

79%

Fouls

18

12

Offsides

1

3

Yellow Cards

3

2

Red Cards

0

0

Gerardo Martino made six changes to the side that defeated AC Milan 3-1 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, as Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano Correia, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta and Alexis Sánchez all dropped out of the starting line-up with Carles Puyol, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Alex Song, Cesc Fàbregas and Pedro their respective replacements. In that sense, it was a fairly "weakened" selection from Tata who knew that a win would see the Blaugrana extend their lead at the top of the table to three points. Would this rotated Barça side possess enough quality to see off the threat of Real Betis, or would Barcelona drop points with a disjointed performance?

On the basis of the first 20 minutes, it appeared as though the latter was more likely; Barcelona struggled to get into their usual rhythm while Real Betis started with a swagger that contrasted their abysmal league position. With a feisty crowd behind them, Betis were by far the better side in the game’s opening stages, forcing a couple of good saves from Victor Valdés. The first, from Jorge Molina was a relatively straight-forward stop for the Catalan shot-stopper at the near post, but the second really stretched our departing keeper to his limits, as Juan Carlos’ powerful header forced Valdés to scramble back across goal to keep Betis at bay.

Immediately after this exceptional save, Valdés earned himself a yellow card for dissent, criticising the referee for allowing play to continue with Lionel Messi down in the opposing half. And rightly so, Messi received treatment and returned to the field – but simply stood on the touchline while Andrés Iniesta warmed up, exiting the action in the 22nd minute.

No Messi, no goals, no shots on target even; were Barcelona in trouble? One could be forgiven for thinking that they were, but to their credit, the Blaugrana responded well to this latest setback, creating their first real chance of the game in the 25th minute – the inconsistent Dani Alves supplied a beautifully weighted cross to the centre of the area where Neymar was ready and waiting. Rising to meet the cross, the Brazilian forward was unmarked, but couldn’t direct his header past the Betis goalkeeper, who kept the scores level with a good one-handed stop.

Barcelona however would not be denied for long; Alex Song of all people opened up the Betis defense with a superb slide-rule pass feeding his former Arsenal teammate Cesc Fàbregas, who duly squared a selfless pass to Neymar, who happily tucked away the golden chance to give Barça the lead. it was his fifth goal for the club, and perhaps one of his most crucial to date, given how Barcelona had struggled in the early stages.

Now with a goal advantage, Barcelona were in the driving seat and Betis were facing an uphill battle. Bottom of the league without a win in five La Liga fixtures; how on earth were they going to turn this match around?

Spoiler: they weren’t.

Within a couple of minutes, Barcelona had doubled their lead, capitalising on Pepe Mel’s suicidal high defensive line for the second time in mere moments, as Pedro darted past the defense to rush through on goal and calmly slot the ball past Guillermo Sara. It was a composed finish from the under-pressure winger, perhaps reminding Culés of what he can offer when he’s on form.

In fact, Pedro could have easily scored another before the break, as Neymar selflessly gave up the chance to go it alone, squaring a kind pass to Pedro – only for a Betis defender to make a crucial last-ditch intervention to keep their slim hopes of a comeback alive.

But even so, heading into the half-time break, they needed a miracle.

Let’s give them their dues, Betis tried to create that miracle, starting the second half on the front foot. With four shots in the opening six minutes of the second-half, the hosts rattled the woodwork and saw two shots blocked. Whether it was simple bad luck, or a lack of quality, things weren’t going Betis’ way.

Just as they weren’t going Neymar’s way at the opposite end. Sure, he got his goal, but he should have scored more, denied by a combination of wasteful finishing and great goalkeeping from Guillermo Sara. Once you factor in the vast quantity of niggling fouls, it must have been a frustrating night for Barça’s summer signing; accentuated by one of his final actions of the match – a great double chance, where he was twice denied by Sara.

Barcelona once again were improving as the half went on, and just after the hour mark, they reinforced their dominance with a third goal. Xavi initiated the move with a square pass to midfield colleague Andrés Iniesta, who didn’t even take a touch to settle himself, immediately lifting a return pass over the Betis defense. Xavi however would not receive the pass, instead Martin Montoya burst free of his defender to race onto the pass, squaring it to Cesc Fàbregas, who tapped in his fourth goal of the campaign.

With an unassailable lead, Martino continued to rotate his squad – Neymar was rested for the final 15+ minutes, as Cristian Tello made a rare appearance. Cesc Fàbregas would also make way for Sergi Roberto – but not until he’d added his second goal of the evening and Barcelona’s fourth, heading Dani Alves’ second glorious cross of the match into the back of the net, albeit with some assistance from the frame of the goal.

Betis responded with a consolation goal in injury time as Jorge Molina converted an injury time penalty conceded by Dani Alves.

Even if they had faced some pressure from Real Betis, Barcelona had weathered the storm and replied with a blitz, racing away to another comfortable win under Gerardo Martino. Their lead at the top of the table was now a healthy three points – and even if Lionel Messi had picked up another injury, the Blaugrana were in a great position headed into the international break.

Next up, Barça host Granada in a rare 16:00 CET kick-off, but until then enjoy the international break and Visca el Barça!

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