Barcelona will finish the weekend in third place in La Liga and remain alive in the title race thanks to a highly entertaining 4-2 win over Real Betis at the Benito Villamarín on Sunday evening. The Blaugrana played an amazing first half and built a two-goal lead, but imploded at the back and conceded twice in quick succession in the second half before mounting a late surge to score twice more and escape Seville with three giant points.
The opening 45 minutes were by far the best we saw from the Blaugrana in months, with Xavi Hernández’s squad looking like a cohesive and creative attacking unit while dominating possession and not allowing Betis any joy on the counter. The home team was forced to defend close to their box for the entire half, and other than an early chance missed by Luiz Henrique they did nothing to threaten the Catalans.
Barça had all of the ball but seemed to have a real plan to confuse the Betis defense, with the pieces constantly moving in the final third and players making decisive runs and passes in behind the Verdiblancos backline. That’s how the first goal came about: Ilkay Gündogan tried to switch the play from right to left but his pass was deflected right onto the path of Pedri, who had time to look up and give Ferran Torres the easiest of tap-ins in the six-yard box to put Barça in front.
The Blaugrana kept pressing and did an excellent job out of possession to recover the ball quickly, and they continued to move the ball well and create chances to double the lead. Lamine Yamal came the closest to scoring the second goal with a gorgeous effort that hit the inside of the post but somehow didn’t go in, and Robert Lewandowski had the ball in the back of the net after a pass from Ferran but the goal was ruled out for a very narrow offside on the Pole in the buildup.
The halftime whistle came to end 45 minutes of impressive stuff by the visitors, but the narrow one-goal lead meant Barça still had work to do to confirm the victory in the second half.
Manuel Pellegrini made two halftime changes and his Betis side looked more intense and ready to press a little higher to try and find a way back in the game early in the final period, but they had no time to put any pressure on the Blaugrana: just three minutes into the half Barça doubled their lead after a gorgeous passing sequence down the right side that ended with a cross from Yamal that hit the post but fell perfectly to Ferran, who scored a gorgeous half-volley and gave the Catalans a crucial two-goal advantage.
But the visitors couldn’t maintain control of the game and allowed Betis to have more of the ball and finally start to bring some pressure, and the Blaugrana completely imploded at the back and saw their lead evaporate before we even hit the hour mark: in a span of three minutes Isco scored two great goals, one a sensational half-volley and the second a beautiful chip over Iñaki Peña that was initially ruled out for offside and then cleared by VAR, and the game was suddenly all square with 30 minutes still to play.
As is often the case when Barça and Betis play, the game suddenly became wildly open and both teams had plenty of space to attack each other, with the home team especially dangerous on the counter when given the opportunity to attack the Blaugrana with fewer bodies at the back. The Catalans had good moments of their own, and it was impossible to predict a winner as we reached the final 15 minutes.
Barça finally wrestled back some control of the game and looked to patiently build from the back and create a good enough chance to win the game, and they finally found it in the 90th minute when substitute João Félix maade a one-two with Ferran at the edge of the box and used the outside of his right foot to curl a beautiful shot into the bottom corner to give Barça the lead again.
Betis had no choice but to send everyone forward and leave space at the back to find another equalizer, but Barça took advantage on the counter and made sure of the points as Yamal played a gorgerous through ball to release Ferran, who completed his hat-trick with a gorgeous chip over Rui Silva to confirm the victory.
The final whistle came to end an amazing game of football between two teams who don’t know how to play boring matches. Barça did not deserve anything other than three points for their attacking work on the night, and Ferran’s hat-trick was only one of the many highlights from a Barça side that finally looked like a great offensive team again.
If they can build on this, they can cause anyone problems. The defense isn’t great, but the attack can be. More of this, please!
Real Betis: Silva; Bellerín, Pezzella, Sokratis, Abner; Johnny (Altimira 73’), Roca; Henrique, Isco, Diao (Fekir 46’); José (Iglesias 46’)
Goals: Isco (56’, 59’)
Barcelona: Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Cubarsí (Félix 81’), Balde; Gündogan, De Jong; Yamal, Pedri (Fermín 71’), Ferran; Lewandowski (Roque 63’)
Goals: Ferran (21’, 48’, 90+2’), Félix (90’)