La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-2 Real Betis: Match Review

David Ramos

A recap of Barcelona's 4-2 La Liga victory over Real Betis at the Camp Nou, where a second-half brace from Lionel Messi was enough to secure the three points for Tito Vilanova's side

A second-half brace from substitute Lionel Messi secured a comeback win for FC Barcelona, who fell behind twice to Real Betis at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening. Dorlan Pabon put the visitors ahead after just two minutes, only for his goal to be cancelled out by Alexis Sánchez’ ninth-minute headed equaliser. Ruben Perez restored Betis’ slender lead just before half-time with an absolute scorcher, but again, Barcelona fought back, this time thanks to David Villa’s 56th minute header. El Guaje made way for Messi immediately after that goal, and the Argentine ultimately secured the three points with a sensational free-kick, and a close-range tap-in following excellent work from Andrés Iniesta and Alexis Sánchez. The win moves Barcelona to within just two points of La Liga glory – and barring an upset, Barça should be crowned champions by the end of next week.

Barcelona

Real Betis

Possession

70%

30%

Total Shots

19

5

Shots on Target

10

3

Pass Accuracy

89%

70%

Fouls

12

10

Offsides

4

5

Yellow Cards

1

1

Red Cards

0

0

Lionel Messi started on the bench for the third match in succession, and with Cesc Fàbregas serving a one-match suspension, David Villa was the man entrusted with a place in the centre of attack. El Guaje was joined upfront by Cristian Tello and Alexis Sánchez, and somewhat surprisingly, Tito Vilanova selected the same midfield that started against Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Jordi Alba replaced Marc Bartra in defense (meaning that Adriano started alongside Piqué at centre-half, again) while Jose Manuel Pinto replaced the injured Victor Valdés in goal. Would the Blaugrana be able to secure the three points and move on from that crushing 7-0 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich?

Given the comprehensive defeat that Barcelona suffered on Wednesday, the start of this match was always going to be important. Would Barça bounce-back immediately with an early goal, or would their low confidence – especially in defense – allow Real Betis to compound a miserable week for Culés by taking the lead at the Camp Nou? Unfortunately, it was the latter, and just like we saw against Bayern in the past couple of weeks, Betis found it all too easy to carve open the Barça defense.

All it took to create a route to goal was a simple header from Jorge Molina following an attempted clearance from Jose Manuel Pinto, and neither Alex Song, nor Adriano could intervene, meaning that the ball rolled right through to the Barça penalty area and to Betis winger Dorlan Pabon. The Colombian loanee has been in sensational form since his deadline day move to Spain from Parma, and he was not going to pass up an opportunity like this, coolly slotting the ball past Pinto to hand the visitors a surprise lead after just two minutes of action at the Camp Nou.

Hardly an ideal start for Tito Vilanova’s side, that much is for certain, but not all was lost. Unlike Wednesday, Barcelona didn’t need to score a ton of goals, nor did they have to find a way past Europe’s best defense either – this was Real Betis, a side that haven’t beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou in almost 15 years. And thankfully, they were not ahead for long as Alexis Sánchez equalised just before the ten minute mark with an excellent diving header.

Andrés Iniesta created the chance, clipping the ball into the six-yard box after breezing past three Betis defenders on the left-hand side of the Barça attack, and while virtually everyone was looking at David Villa, Alexis Sánchez ghosted in to head home a much-needed equaliser. It was the Chilean’s second goal of the week, and his ninth of the season in all competitions, but just as Alexis appeared to find his shooting boots, David Villa lost his magic touch.

In the space of ten minutes, David Villa had four chances to put Barça ahead – and he squandered them all. Some of those chances were admittedly quite difficult, but nevertheless, we’ve come to expect a player of Villa’s calibre to capitalise when chances fall his way – whether he was 20 yards out, or in the six-yard box, Villa just couldn’t find the back of the net.

Cristian Tello had set up one of those golden chances for El Guaje, only to see his good work go to waste as Villa fired a shot right at Adrian, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him from making his mark on the match. Capitalising on a poor headed clearance from Javi Chica, Tello cut inside from the left-flank and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot with his right foot. The keeper was beaten by this venomous effort, but fortunately for Real Betis, the frame of the goal came to the rescue. Initial replays suggested that the ball, which rebounded off the crossbar, may have crossed the line, only for a slow-motion replay from another angle to show that the referee had in fact made the right call – the ball had not crossed the line. Still, it was a promising sign: Barcelona were just inches away from the lead.

However, for all their possession, and for all their chances, Barcelona were not yet ahead. This match was still very much in the balance and a goal for either team on the stroke of half-time would almost certainly change the complexion of this game; completely against the run of play, that goal went to Real Betis. And what a goal it was too, creating something out of nothing, 22 year-old holding midfielder Nosa teed up his colleague Ruben Perez, who went one better than Tello did a few minutes ago, smashing the ball into the top-corner of Pinto’s net from all of 25 yards. Betis were ahead for the second time this half, and Barcelona had a lot of work to do to salvage something from this match.

Pepe Mel made a change at the break, replacing Jorge Molina with Beñat, while Tito Vilanova sent out the same XI, meaning that Lionel Messi started the second-half on the bench, despite the 1-2 scoreline. As things stood, the lead at the top of the table was going to stay at just eight points; surely it wouldn’t be long before we saw Messi enter the fray?

Almost immediately, Messi began to warm-up on the touchline, which prompted a nice response from the Camp Nou crowd. With the volume levels rising, Barcelona took the game to Betis, and just as Messi was preparing to come on, Barça got their well-deserved equaliser. This time it was Dani Alves who got the assist, but the method was exactly the same as we saw from Iniesta earlier in the match; a good cross, converted from close-range by a Barcelona striker – as David Villa finally got his name on the scoresheet with a well-placed header. His reward? A place on the bench, Lionel Messi was ready to enter the field.

The Argentine changed the outcome of the match against PSG a few weeks ago, and he changed the outcome of last weekend’s match against Athletic Bilbao; of course he was going to do something similar tonight. The question was how long it would take him to make an impact. Last weekend, it was a little under ten minutes, this weekend; it was just four, as Lionel Messi stepped up to curl in his third free-kick of this La Liga campaign. A picture-perfect strike from our talismanic superstar.

So, Barcelona had fallen behind on two separate occasions tonight, yet, with Messi on the field, they looked set to coast to the three points. Real Betis had lost their fight, lost their motivation; they were just happy to hang on, and keep the score down – but Barça had other ideas. If Real Betis actually found it easy to carve the Barcelona defense apart for their opening goal, Barcelona simply made it look easy to carve open the Betis defense with their fourth of the evening. The level of understanding between the players, and the level of technique that Barça needed pull it off, well; there are only a few teams in the history of the sport that could have equalled this goal. Just days after many media outlets proclaimed the Barcelona style of play to be “dead”, Andrés Iniesta, Alexis Sánchez and Lionel Messi reminded the world that the best may be to come; combining beautifully on the edge of the Betis area, Barcelona waltzed their way through the last line of defense to walk in their fourth, and ultimately wrap up the three points. It was Messi’s 60th goal of the season, and 46th in La Liga, leaving him just four goals away his own personal record. It could have even been three, as Messi had a number of chances to secure the match-ball with a hat-trick, but he was denied by the frame of the goal, and by a superb stop from Adrian in injury-time.

But with Barcelona two points away from La Liga glory, I’m sure he won’t mind.

Depending on the result of Real Madrid’s midweek match with Malaga, Barcelona could secure the title on Wednesday, without even kicking a ball, and that could also be the case next Saturday, as Real Madrid travel to Barcelona to face Espanyol. Anything less than two wins from those two matches, and Barcelona will be crowned La Liga champions before their match at the Vicente Calderon in a week’s time. Until then, Visca el Barça!


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