Barcelona have officially clinched a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Real Betis thanks to a last-second winner by Jordi Alba in what was truly a sensational football match at the Benito Villamarín. Both teams lived up to the pre-match expectations and attacked each other for 90 minutes, and a wildly entertaining game ended with the biggest win of the season for Xavi Hernández and his troops.
The first 45 minutes were fun and played at a high level by both teams as expected. The pace of the game was slightly slower than anticipated and there weren’t as many counter attacks even though both teams like to play really fast, but the slower pace didn’t take away from the quality of the entertainment provided by the two sides.
There was no clear better team in the period, with stretches of dominance of possession by each side and both defenses looking quite vulnerable at times which led to a few big chances: Ronald Araujo had Barça’s best hitting the crossbar after winning a header off a Memphis Depay corner, and Memphis himself also came close to scoring with a powerful outside shot that was saved by Rui Silva.
Betis took a while to get into the game but looked really good once they started to enjoy more possession, and they also came very close to a goal in two occasions: first it was Germán Pezzella who won a header off a Nabil Fekir corner but had his effort saved by Neto, and Guido Rodríguez nearly scored a beauty from outside the box but hit the post instead.
At halftime a high-level game full of excellent attacking football was somehow goalless, but the feeling was that things were about to change in the second half.
If the first half was fun but played a slower pace, the two teams decided to go ballistic in the second half, counter-attacking each other every 20 seconds like it was a basketball match, and there were big chances for both sides in a wild first 20 minutes of the period.
Neto started in the Barça goal for the first time in four months and made two giant saves to stop two certain goals by Juanmi, and the Brazilian kept Barça alive heading into the end of the game.
Xavi brought Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ansu Fati off the bench hoping for some late magic to find the winning goal, and after Aubameyang missed a big chance with his first touch it was time for Ansu to work his magic: the Prince needed just one minute on the pitch to put Barça ahead after receiving a pass from Jordi Alba inside the box and finding the bottom corner with a smart finish.
But there was no time to celebrate as Betis equalized right away: Nabil Fekir sent a free-kick into the box and Marc Bartra won the header to score against his former club with 10 minutes to go and set up a wild finish at the Villamarín.
And a wild finish we got, with Barça finding the winner in the very last play of the game: Dani Alves played a beautiful cross from the right and found the run of Alba who fired a spectacular volley that flew into the net to give Barça all three points as the final whistle came just seconds after Alba’s amazing strike.
Barça have qualified for next season’s Champions League thanks to a brilliant win in a spectacular football match, and Xavi’s debut season is officially a success. What a game. What a winning goal. What a victory.
Real Betis: Bravo (Silva 17’); Sabaly, Pezzella, Bartra, Moreno; Rodríguez, Guardado (Rodri 78’); Canales, Fekir, Juanmi (Carvalho 78’); Iglesias
Goal: Bartra (79’)
Barcelona: Neto; Alves, Araujo, Eric, Alba; F. De Jong, Busquets, Gavi (Puig 80’); Dembélé (Adama 74’), Ferran (Fati 75’), Memphis (Aubameyang 66’)
Goals: Ansu Fati (76’), Alba (90+4’)