FC Barcelona head into the international break widening the lead in La Liga as El Blaugrana defeated Real Betis 4-1 on Sunday night. Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw against Villarreal now gives Barça a three-point lead over Alteti at the top of the La Liga table.
Victor Valdes made two great saves near the 17th minute as Betis threatened. Lionel Messi was taken out of the game in the 21st minute as Leo looked like he hurt his leg during a scramble for the ball. Messi was replace by Andres Iniesta. During the second half of the game, Barcelona sent a statement saying Messi suffered a thigh injury, and more tests were going to be done on Monday.
Neymar got the scoring started in the 36th minute as a great through ball pass from Alex Song found Cesc Fabregas, who then crossed it to Neymar, and the Brazilian slid the ball low and into the back to the net for the 1-0 lead. Just a minute later, Pedro made it 2-0 as another Barça break lead to the Canarian slammed the ball high to the top right corner past Betis goalkeeper Guillermo Sara to double the lead.
In the second half, Sara made two great saves on two consecutive Neymar shots in the 59th minute. Cesc Fabregas made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute as a great lob pass from Andres Iniesta found Martin Montoya onside, and Martin found Cesc who tapped it in for the third FC Barcelona goal. Fabregas got his brace in the 79th minute as a Dani Alves cross into the box found the head of Cesc and the former Arsenal man's header shot hit off the far post and in for the 4-0 lead. In stoppage time, a foul inside the box by Dani Alves lead to Jorge Molina converting from the spot kick for Betis to save face a bit for the home side.
Let's get to the Best, Worst, and What We Learned from this game.
The Best: Marc Bartra, Alex Song, and Victor Valdes
While Neymar, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas all had a solid game against Real Betis, for me, Marc Bartra along with Alex Song and Victor Valdes were the best from this game. Valdes is always an important figure, but his two saves early in the game were huge. VV's saves were before Messi's injury. If Betis would have scored, followed by Leo's injury, and Barcelona would have had 70+ minutes of a mini-disaster as they would have been down 1-0 on the road and without their best player. Thankfully, Valdes made the big saves, and Barcelona was able to recover from the Betis threat and missing Leo soon after that.
Marc Bartra continued to prove that he not only deserves a nice new, long contract, but the kid is proving that he is arguably the best young CB in La Liga. Bartra won the best defender of the Liga second division in 2012, and 2013 has been the year Marc proved he's part of the future of the FC Barcelona defensive line. Marc had some good blocks in the game, and was very active all around the back line.
Alex Song had a great game as well. The big man made a nice sliding stop on a play early in the game. And his through ball pass to Cesc Fabregas that lead to Neymar's goal was spectacular. Song played deep in the back for Barça to help the defense, which was needed, as Betis was feisty on offense in the first half.
Grande Bartra, VV, and Song!
The Worst: Lionel Messi's injury
Lionel Messi's injury was obviously the worst of the game. During the post-game press conference, Tata Martino let the media know that Leo's injury was not on the leg that Messi has had issues with recently. "Messi's new injury is not related with the previous one. It's the other leg. But we should see if a new injury affects him."
Part of me is happy that Messi's injury is not a re-aggravation of the thigh injury he has been dealing with for quite a bit of 2013. But any injury is obviously a bad injury. Thank the football gods that there is another international beak so Leo can rest.
What We Learned? What Some People Keep Saying: Messi Wasn't Getting Hurt Like This When Pep Guardiola Was Manager.
One thing that is really bothering me is all of these "Barça fans" and "experts" that keep saying, "Messi almost never got hurt under Pep (Guardiola)." What does Pep Guardiola have to do with Messi's recent run of injuries? Does this apply to other players, or only to Messi? It's a bad argument and it might be the dumbest, most pathetic argument/excuse I've heard in a while. A complete logical fallacy, and if you don't know what that is, look it up.
Others are blaming Leo's injuries on Tata Martino's style of play. Is Tata's offense (press and recover the football fast) a bit more physically demanding than Pep's style? Yes. But that is not the reason Messi has been getting hurt. Remember, Leo got hurt early this calendar year (late last season) under Tito Vilanova and his system, which was essentially a carbon copy of Pep's. Is it too far-fetched for some to consider say that A.) Messi maybe hasn't yet fully recovered from the injury last season, B.) Messi's playing schedule with Barça and the Argentine national team has taken a toll on Leo, C.) Messi is simply getting older, thus more injury prone, or D.) Messi has simply had bad luck this calendar year with injuries?
The only argument that I believe could be valid about the Pep era-Messi not injured argument is the fact that since Lorenzo Buenaventura, former team fitness coach/trainer under Pep, left El Blaugrana in the summer of 2012 with Guardiola, Messi has suffered muscular injuries in his legs. I can buy this argument. Perhaps Buenaventura trained, worked with, and made a better workout and dietary regiment for Leo than the one Messi has been receiving since Buenaventura's departure, thus Messi hasn't had the same run of good fitness health as before. I can buy this argument.
So what can be done? Buenaventura is with Pep at Bayern Munich, so don't even think about trying to see if he'd come back to Barça.
The current team trainers need to go in and do a better job of preparing, examining, and continue to study Messi's injury and recovery. I know that's not the answer you may have been looking for, but there's not much else that can be done. Once Messi feels ready to go, he's not going to take it down a notch. Leo is not made like that. He always has a "full speed ahead" mentality, like all the great ones have. Tata Martino will once again have to limit Leo's minutes when he comes back. But perhaps this falls on Leo more than the trainers. Perhaps Leo just needs to replicate what Buenaventura did when he was at Barça in order to maintain physical health.
Then again, this could all just be Messi having bad luck when it comes to injuries in 2013. Makes you thankful Barça now has Neymar to be the "Plan B" for this team.
What's Next?: November 23rd against Granada
With the international break upon us, FC Barcelona won't be back in action until November 23rd when they host Granada at the Camp Nou. It's obvious Lionel Messi will stay in Catalunya to recover from his injury. Expect Cesc Fabregas to rest as well from international duty, as he suffered a knock in his knee during the Betis game. Sergio Busquets is expected to start against Granada, as he was rested for the Betis game. There is a very, very outside chance Jordi Alba may play a few minutes against Granada. "The flying squirrel", as I lovingly call Alba, has been out since September with a thigh injury.
Xoel's Final Word
FC Barcelona grabbed a 4-1 win over Real Betis thanks to Cesc Fabregas's brace along with goals from Neymar and Pedro. But Lionel Messi's injury is worrisome, and we all hope for a speedy recovery for the best player in the world.
With Atletico Madrid grabbing a 1-1 draw at Villarreal, FC Barcelona now have a three-point lead over Los Colchoneros in the La Liga standings.
Good win, guys. Stay healthy in international play. We'll see you back at the Camp Nou soon. Stay strong, Leo. You'll be back soon enough. Anims Leo.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona