Barcelona had Lionel Messi to thank once more after his hat-trick of assists helped the La Liga champions battle to a 3-2 win over Real Betis.
Betis were awarded a penalty inside the opening five minutes when Clement Lenglet was adjudged to have blocked a shot with his arm, and Sergio Canales tucked away the resulting spot-kick to give the hosts a shock lead.
The advantage lasted only four minutes, however, as Frenkie de Jong levelled proceedings with a smart finish, latching onto an exquisite Lionel Messi pass.
Frenkie de Jong
La Blaugrana then spurned a whole host of chances to edge ahead, but it was the hosts who struck next, when Nabil Fekir capitalised on an Arturo Vidal mistake to lash home. Sergio Busquets levelled the scores deep in first-half injury time, and the two sides went into the half-time break all square.
Barça were the better side at the start of the second half, and Messi was denied twice by two smart Joel Robles saves. But the visitors weren’t finished there, and Lenglet secured all three points with 20 minutes to play, planting a superb header beyond the Betis goalkeeper from another Messi cross.
Fekir was then sent off a few minutes later for dissent towards the referee, as the hosts began to crumble, before Lenglet also saw red. Despite the late setback, Barça held onto the victory and moved to within three points of rivals Real Madrid.
Here’s 90min’s breakdown of the game.
Starting XI: Joel (6); Emerson (6), Mandi (6), Bartra (7), Alex Moreno (6); William Carvalho (7), Guido Rodríguez (6), Aleñá (8); Canales (7); Fekir (6), Borja Iglesias (7)
Substitutes: Moron (6), Joaquin (6), Tello (6)
Key Talking Point
Given Barcelona are currently in a full-blown crisis, the last thing the Catalan giants needed was one of their own stars putting in a superb performance against them on Sunday evening.
But that’s exactly what happened.
On-loan Carles Aleñá was starting in the Betis midfield against his parent club, and he demonstrated exactly why La Blaugrana should not have allowed him to leave.
Clement Lenglet,Carles Alena
Although Barça were able to get the ball up the pitch to the forwards quickly, they lacked any real balance or control in the midfield and Aleñá and his teammates took full advantage of their woes.
It was the 22-year-old himself who created the second goal, seizing the ball from Vidal in the centre of the park and sliding an inch-perfect pass to Fekir, who gleefully buried his chance. With only a few players available for selection for the coming months, Barça fans must be wishing they could recall a talent like Aleñá back to Camp Nou.
When it rains, it pours.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (6); Semedo (6), Lenglet (6), Umtiti (7), Junior (6); Vidal (5), Busquets (7), De Jong (8), Sergi Roberto (5); Messi (9*), Griezmann (7)
Substitutes: Jordi Alba (6), Arthur (6), Rakitic (N/A)
Sorry for stating the blinkin’ obvious, but this Messi fella is alright at football, isn’t he?
The Argentine superstar wasn’t at his mind-boggling best in possession, but it was his vital contributions from set-pieces that won the game for Barcelona.
The 32-year-old clipped a delicious pass over the top of the Betis defence to allow De Jong the chance to level the scores early on, and the little magician then delivered a superb free-kick which was tucked away by Busquets to restore parity once more.
Messi’s awards for ‘best supporting act’ didn’t stop there, though, as the Barça star whipped a mouthwatering ball onto the head of Lenglet, who dealt the final blow to this courageous Betis side.
Argentina’s captain almost marked the game with one of his trademark chipped finishes – one of which he scored against the very same opposition – but his majestic clip narrowly missed the far post.
The man deserves a better cast.
Continue reading Real Betis 2-3 Barcelona: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Lionel Messi Inspires Dramatic Comeback