Barcelona’s two-game winning streak in La Liga came to a painful end on Saturday and Xavi Hernández suffered his first loss in charge as Real Betis won 1-0 at Camp Nou in a heartbreaking afternoon for Barça. The Blaugrana were by far the better team and deserved the victory, but were punished by a Betis side that won a classic smash and grab to leave Catalonia with all three points.
Barça had a bright start to the game, pressing with plenty of intensity and winning the ball high up the pitch. Philippe Coutinho was everywhere early on, and the Brazilian looked comfortable and confident and was involved in everything good that Barça did offensively in the opening 20 minutes.
Betis had a lot of issues navigating the Barça press but slowly found a way to progress the ball forward, though they could never truly trouble the Blaugrana defense thanks to excellent performances by the pairing of Ronald Araujo and Clément Lenglet who were dominant both in the ground and the air.
There were very few chances in the first half and the two sides mostly denied each other, and despite being the better team Barça still had a lot of work to do in what promised to be a very competitive second half.
The second half wasn’t competitive. It was all Barça. The Blaugrana were quite simply overwhelming in the final period, pressing even higher up the pitch and launching attack after attack. Ousmane Dembélé came on with a half-hour remaining and was unplayable, beating every single defender on the wing and creating chance after chance.
But football can be cruel sometimes, and Barça conceded completely against the run of play as Betis went on the counter after a Blaugrana corner and Cristian Tello assisted Juanmi for the opening goal. Barça threw everyone forward looking for the equalizer and Ez Abde missed a sitter one minute after Juanmi’s strike, and Barça started to look a little desperate.
Luuk De Jong came off the bench for the final 10 minutes and the Blaugrana began launching cross after cross into the box, abandoning the good football that they were playing up to that point. The late-game strategy predictably failed, and Betis managed to hold on to the one-goal lead.
The final whistle came to end a brutal afternoon for Barça, who absolutely deserved to win and were punished by their only defensive lapse of the entire game. The performance was very encouraging, though, and Barça will give themselves a chance in Munich if they play the same way. For today, however, this one hurts.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet (Piqué 82’), Alba; Nico (F. De Jong 59’), Busquets, Gavi (Puig 36’); Ez Abde (L. De Jong 82’), Memphis, Coutinho (Dembélé 59’)
Real Betis: Silva; Bellerín, Bartra, Ruiz, Moreno; Rodríguez, Guardado; Ruibal (Tello 63’), Canales, Juanmi (Iglesias 81’); Willian José (Carvalho 71’)
Goal: Juanmi (79’)