The Blaugrana went to the Villamarin after a dominating performance midweek against La Real. Despite a slow start, the Blaugrana had managed a decent run of form, having won five games on the trot in all competitions. The Green and Whites needed a miracle to take any points from the fixture.
Luis Enrique threw a curve-ball at Betis, with an experimental line-up. Gerard Pique was the only starting defender in the XI alongside the likes of Vidal, Digne, and Mathieu. In midfield, Ivan Rakitic started at pivot alongside Denis Suarez and Arda Turan. The attacking triumvirate remained up front, with Ter Stegen starting in goal.
In the opening minutes of the game, Betis came out all guns blazing, as they looked to press Barca high up the pitch, which resulted in the first shot of the game, straight at Ter Stegen.
Some great interplay in the final third, allowed Aleix Vidal to slip unmarked on the overlap. His teasing lobbed ball, was set up perfectly for Luis Suarez on the far post, but in vain.
Despite facing some trouble against the Betis’ defence, the Blaugrana were holding onto the ball well, and were spending plenty of time around the opposition box; the chances were starting to materialise, and a goal looked to be on the cards.
Betis on the other hand, were pressing better than the Blaugrana, and while their chances were few, they looked more dangerous than the away team, as the game began to unfurl.
Ceballos forced a stunning save from Ter Stegen, as the German palmed away a powerful long range effort from the top corner. While the German had received plenty of criticism in the previous fixtures, he looked in fine form on the afternoon.
The home side looked lethal on the counter, as they exploited space well, and continued to pound at Barca’s goal every chance they got. While the game had appeared one-sided initially, it looked more open than expected, as half an hour passed by.
Nearing forty minutes, Barca had their first serious attempt at goal, as Lucas Digne’s run through the middle found Messi, who conveniently set-up Neymar for a shot in the box with a defence-splitting through-ball. The shot was straight at former Madrid-man Adan, but it seemed like a sign that the Blaugrana were beginning to pick up some much needed pace.
Betis however, countered once more, which forced a rash challenge from Gerard Pique. The Catalan walked away without protest as the official pulled out a yellow card from his pocket.
Both teams entered the tunnel empty handed, as the referee called for half time.
Betis began the half on the front foot, as they once more, looked to be the more dangerous side on the pitch. Their high press was forcing mistakes in abundance, and the Blaugrana seemed unable to catch-up with the home side.
If the first half was disruptive for the Catalans, then the second half was catastrophic.
The Blaugrana were behind in chances, shots, and were misplacing passes like they were playing for a Sunday-League side.
The likes of Ruben Castro, Ceballos and Alegria continued to get into good positions repeatedly, and threaten the Blaugrana. The Sevilla side continued to give Barca a torrid time, and take dangerous shots. If it weren’t for the goalpost and Ter Stegen, the scoreline would have been lopsided by the 60th minute in favour of the home side. The introduction of Andre Gomes (Denis), Alba (Digne) and Roberto (Arda) had little effect on the scoreline.
With 20 minutes on the clock, Alegria was the one to draw first blood for Betis, as the forward capitalised on a Ter Stegen error, and slotted the ball in from close range.
The moment Betis got ahead, Barca continued to display a sense of urgency which resulted in two potentially game changing moments, of which one was a wrongly disallowed goal, and the other was a goal-line clearance.
However, Barcelona weren’t going to leave the Villamarin without a fight, as Lionel Messi once more created a goal out of thin air for Luis Suarez, who despite an invisible night, slotted the ball home with a clinical finish, to level the scores.
With barely any time added on, the game came to an end after three pips.
Real Betis needed a miracle to take any number of points on the afternoon, and they got theirs, in a fatigued, disjointed Barcelona. With more than one variable going against the Catalans, it might be hard to accurately hold someone accountable for the draw. But the one thing that isn’t up for debate, is that Luis Enrique needs to understand the strengths of his players, if he is to rotate the squad effectively in the future.
Until next time...