Barcelona ended the year 2015 on a high with an emphatic 4-0 win against Real Betis. The first goal of the game might have been an own goal by Heiko Westermann, but Barcelona completely dominated their opponents and had it not been for the frame of the goal it could’ve ended much worse for Betis. Lionel Messi doubled Barcelona’s lead in the first half before Luis Suarez added a pair in the second half to set the final score.
|Shots on Target||8
With a grueling January schedule just around the corner, Luis Enrique started early with rotations, with only the attacking trident left untouched. In defense Thomas Vermaelen made a rare start in the heart of the defense, alongside of Javier Mascherano, while Jeremy Mathieu and Dani Alves opened the match as full-backs. In midfield Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitić were joined by Sergi Roberto.
The match started with a few minute delay as Barcelona presented all five trophies won in 2015 to the Camp Nou crowd, including the Club World Cup trophy won just 10 days ago. The celebrations were also well received from the visiting Real Betis who showed excellent sportsmanship by doing a guard of honor for arguably the best team of 2015.
Neither team looked sharp from the opening minutes. While Barcelona controlled the ball and looked the more dangerous team, the Catalans couldn't really set foot in Antonio Adan's penalty area for a good part of the first half. Betis made Barcelona's task even tougher by playing a very physical game, full of tough tackles.
Betis suffered a blow to their ranks in the 16th minute as their most used defender, Bruno González, was forced to come off after a tough clash with his own goalkeeper just minutes earlier. He was replaced by rarely used Germán Pezzella.
The first dangerous shot from Barcelona came in the 22nd minute when Messi whipped a 28-yard free kick a couple feet wide of Adan's goal. Betis quickly countered with an even better chance, after a terrible Alves turnover, but Dani Ceballos wasted too much time and gave Alves enough time to recover and clear the ball out of danger. From open play Barcelona didn't create anything noteworthy until the 25th minute when Luis Suarez beautifully found a wide open Neymar with a high cross, but the Brazilian's header was too weak and right into the hands of Adan.
The very next minute the referee Iñaki Vicandi Garrido pointed to the penalty spot after a brutal clash between Adan and Messi, even though Adan clearly got to the ball first, but Garrido might have reacted to how Messi's body whipped from the heavy contact. Messi had to be escorted off the pitch for a few moments after lying very still for a couple of minutes inside the Betis penalty area. Neymar took responsibility for the kick, but he slipped in the crucial moment and let his attempt sail into the crossbar. The ball bounced back into play where Rakitić and Westermann charged to the rebound. The German won the race, but his touch, under pressure from Rakitić, was poor and the ball ended up in his own net.
That opened up Betis a little bit and in the 33rd minute Barcelona were able to outplay the makeshift defensive line to double their lead. Neymar and Messi played a lovely one-two in-between a handful of defenders to get the Brazilian into a great position to take the shot, but he opted for the unselfish move to find Messi who sprinted in front of the goal for an easy tap in.
Betis were handed another blow three minutes later as Westermann, Betis' second center-back, was also forced to leave the pitch injured. The German was replaced by a defender used even less than the aforementioned Pezzella, by Didier Digard. Losing their two most reliable defenders made Betis no favors and Barcelona quickly tried to take advantage again. In the 38th minute, Suarez was played through by Messi and after the Uruguayan easily skipped past the keeper, he couldn't send the ball into the wide open net.
The second half started with a bang as not even a full minute in Barcelona were up 3-0. After a poor Mathieu pass stopped Barcelona's attack, Busquets did well to intercept an errant Alfred N'Diaye pass and the world's arguably most underrated star quickly played Suarez though alone on goal. This time Suarez didn't make the same mistake as he did in the first half, calmly slotting the ball out of the goalkeeper's reach to increase Barcelona's lead. Suarez's goal made Barcelona the highest scoring team in a calendar year with 179 goal, surpassing Real Madrid's record of 178 in 2014.
After scoring the third the tempo of play dropped, but that didn't mean Betis' defense had much more time to breathe - something Messi made sure off with several stunning long passes. And when Messi wasn't making those passes, Rakitić was making them with strikingly similar accuracy. Sadly for Barcelona fans though, none of the chances created from those passes wanted to go into the back of the net. Two of Barcelona's best chances of the second half came in the 61st minute just seconds apart. Rakitić played Neymar through, but all the completely unmarked Brazilian could do was hit the post. The play continued as the ball bounced back into play and Barcelona would get another chance but Messi shot was excellently stopped by Adan.
In the 67th minute Lucho made his second substitution, replacing Mathieu with Adriano Correia, almost exactly ten minutes after the first change which saw Busquets get some much deserved rest as he was replaced by Bartra.
Barcelona would go on to be denied on a bevy of golden scoring chances between the 69th and the 75th minute. First, Messi sent a brilliant free kick on target only to see the ball get tipped into the crossbar and out of play by a great save by Adan. Then Alves was left in the box with plenty of space to take a lovely chip shot, but he too was denied by the crossbar. Barça would have another chance off the rebound, but Suarez was unable to control the ball and the chance went begging. Suarez would have a good look on goal the very next minute, but this time he was denied by yet another strong save by Adan. Lastly, Messi would give it another go from a free kick, this one in a better position for a left-footed specialist, and again he curled a fantastic shot, but again he was denied by the bar.
But all those missed chances would in the end not deny Barcelona another goal in 2015 - and what a goal it was. Neymar started the sequence 35 yards from goal with a simple pass to Suarez who forwarded it to the left wing to Adriano. Adriano sent the ball back to Suarez, who by now reached the penalty area and extended the play to Neymar in the middle. Wasting no time, Neymar sent a spinning back-heel back to Suarez who finished the play with a calm shot to the back of the net for what turned out to be Barcelona's last goal of 2015.
The Catalans will have no time to enjoy this win and their successes in 2015 as their next game will be played on 2 January - the first of three in less than two weeks against city rival Espanyol.
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