Barca win sets up Clasico final
Barcelona’s win over Betis means it’s a Clasico final on Sunday as the two rivals face off yet again and hope to pick up the first silverware of the season.
Xavi is, of course, eyeing his first trophy as Barcelona boss. The Super Cup clearly isn’t top of his priorities but he made it clear in his press conference he’s desperate to win.
His passionate rant during the game also shows that Barca aren’t just in Saudi Arabia to make up the numbers, and Xavi knows a trophy will provide evidence of the progress he’s made.
It won’t be as easy as all that though. Real Madrid won 3-1 the last time the two sides met and have a rather unfortunate habit of winning big games, particularly when trophies are up for grabs.
Barcelona’s mentality remains questionable and they weren’t great against Betis. The Catalans gave up chances, failed to kill off the game, and Xavi’s in-game management didn’t really help.
Ter Stegen saves the day
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has impressed all season after enjoying a summer off and has appeared refreshed, confident and back to his very best.
Indeed it seems that Ter Stegen Version 2.0 not only comes with a full head of hair but also now saves penalties.
I couldn’t remember the last time I saw Ter Stegen save a spot-kick before the shootout and then he came up with two in a row and Barcelona were through.
Let’s not forget Ter Stegen also came up clutch in the match, denying German Pezzella, Rodrigo Sanchez, Henrique and Juan Miranda, and leaving Ansu Fati drooling and calling him “a crack.”
Make no mistake that Ter Stegen was key to this win, and a big reason why Barca have only conceded six league goals this season, which is fantastic news. The bad news is that you don’t really want your victories to be built on your goalkeeper playing a blinder.
Lewandowski’s back in the goals
Robert Lewandowski was back in the team against Betis and back doing what he does best too, namely putting the ball in the back of the net. The striker scored once, had another chalked off, and ensured a recent “mini-dought” (of a whole THREE games without a goal) is over.
3 - @lewy_official has ended a run of three matches without scoring with @FCBarcelona in all competitions, his worse streak with Blaugranas and his longest run since September 2020 with Bayern München (also three games). Predator. pic.twitter.com/lYexmMnEBH— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 12, 2023
The striker wasn’t even at his best against Betis but the fact he is back in the goals is good news for Barcelona, especially with a Clasico final up next. Barca haven’t lost a game when Lewandowski has scored and will be hoping he can find the net against Madrid.
Lewandowski now has 19 goals from 21 games and four assists for Barcelona since signing in the summer. He also has one red card which means he will be back on the sidelines when Barca return from Saudi Arabia, might that provide extra motivation against Madrid?
Dare we dream about Ansu Fati?
What Barcelona do need are players who can finish and kill games off they have dominated. We all know Ansu Fati can be that player but we also know he’s still not quite the player he was before his injury nightmare.
Yet Fati did give us all reason to dream with a wonderful strike against Betis. It deserved to win the game, and it very nearly did, but at the very least it offered a welcome reminder that Barca’s No. 10 still does have magic in those boots.
️ Ansu Fati: "I'm happy to help out the team." pic.twitter.com/9BkFCU8fJ8— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 13, 2023
Xavi had some telling comments about Fati after the game and rued not bringing the striker on earlier in the match.
“My biggest regret today, I should have brought him [Fati] on earlier. He’s been much better since coming back from the World Cup,” he said. “He scored a goal and his penalty, I’m happy for him because he’s suffered to be here, and to perform at this level.”
Might Fati now be in contention to start against Real Madrid? Or does Xavi prefer Fati as a supersub? We’ll find out on Sunday.
More doubts over Xavi
Barcelona’s win brought up a final against Real Madrid but also brought up more questions about Xavi, particularly his substitutions.
The manager’s decision to take off Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong had a big impact on the game. Xavi said afterwards both players had a little discomfort but is hopeful they can play the final.
On came Ferran Torres and Sergio Busquets but neither player really shone. Ferran put in one of those performances, while the captain made his 700th appearance and it kind of looked like it too.
700 - @5sergiob reaches his 700th appearance with @FCBarcelona in all competitions, being the 3rd player to reach this milestone in the Blaugrana's club history after Lionel Messi (778) and Xavi Hernández (767). Legend. pic.twitter.com/uCua0zkAre— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 12, 2023
Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso also came on but didn’t improve the team either. Indeed Alonso was turned inside out by Henrique as Barcelona conceded a late goal that forced the game into penalties.
Once again we saw Barca start well, fail to kill the game off, be pegged back, seem to run out of ideas and then be reliant on one player’s brilliance to secure a victory.
It’s worth saying that Xavi does have the team top of the table and on the brink of a title here, but the fact remains (as Renato pointed out so well recently) that there are still big question marks hanging over him as Barca manager.