It was a game of two halves when Barcelona hosted Real Betis at the Camp Nou, capping off the game with a 5-2 victory, with goals galore in the second half.
History repeated itself as Barcelona replicated an almost indistinguishable result and performance from the last time the club hosted Real Betis in the league. While the Blaugranas are still a long way off top spot, securing a much needed 3 points with a whopping 5 goals put past Claudio Bravo, signs of progression are finally beginning to appear in the League.
Although defensively Barca are still not up to par and are yet to make full use of their chances in the attacking third, Ronald Koeman’s side are slowly, but surely, heading in the right direction with key players in the squad stepping up at long last. Barça Universal takes a deep dive into the game, picking out three major pointers from Barcelona’s victory.
1. Barcelona’s lion wakes up from his slumber
Eyebrows were raised over Ronald Koeman’s dumbfounding decision to start Lionel Messi on the bench, but with the Argentine talisman only requiring a mere 45 minutes to score a brace and earn himself an assist, Koeman’s caution eventually ended up paying him dividends.
Although Leo had been producing performances at the highest level for a while now: toying with defenders, generating chances and mesmerizing opponents with his supreme set of skills, his only source of goals were astoundingly penalties.
None of his efforts would convert into open play goals, and with continuous doubts regarding the 33-year-old’s commitment towards the club looming over him, the immense baggage of frustration he had been carrying was finally released, in the most timely of moments.
Messi’s impact after coming on was simply unparalleled. Conceding right before half-time, the Catalans were in desperate need of a source of inspiration upfront, an individual who could exploit the acres of space Real Betis had left behind in their leaky defence. And Messi proved to fit just that profile.
In the 49th minute of the game, Jordi Alba sent in one of his typical low crosses, searching for the iconic Messi-Alba cutback which could help his side take the lead, but the 6-time-Ballon-D’or-winner refrained from taking the shot, displaying his innate vision with a savvy dummy that helped Antoine Griezman score from a tap-in.
Penalties are Leo’s children now. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Afterwards, right when the game had reached the hour mark, Barcelona’s fortunes were blessed with yet another penalty, which Messi decided to take, unsurprisingly converting it with utmost ease and perfection. With a top corner finish, he extended the Azulgranas’ lead even further. Scoring his 7th goal from the spot, Leo showed Griezmann how it’s truly done. At this point, it’s fair to say the South American has finally mastered the art of penalties.
To top it all off, and to finally bring a muzzle on his critics’ mouths, Messi scored his first open play goal of the season, thumping the ball in the roof of the net as Bravo was left stunned by the immense power Leo put into the shot.
Although it’s concerning to see Barcelona rely so heavily on a particular individual, the fact that Messi was so in control of the game and scored a blistering brace to salvage his side the win was also certainly a joy to watch. The king is back, just in time.
2. 20/21: Finally Ousmane’s season?
The injury-plagued Frenchman is finally beginning to rise from his ashes, as was proven once again with an emphatic exhibition against the Verdiblancos. Ousmane Dembele’s effectiveness in occasions where oppositions tend to employ a high line is still an undeniable asset to the club, especially since his tendency to exploit the tons of space left behind by teams allows him to slip into threatening areas.
Crotchet, Crotchet, Crotchettttt. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Although Dembele is yet to polish several facets of his gameplay, given his crossing is still very rusty and he fails to often make the right judgements with the ball at his feet, his inclusion on the right flank has undoubtedly brought the best out of him, where the former Borussia sensation can efficiently impose himself as a wild card, through his sheer unpredictability and proficient pace.
Despite most La Liga opponents employing low-blocks, restricting Barcelona from operating with ample space at their disposal, Real Betis desired to challenge the Catalans in the possession charts. However, their attacking intent obviously came at a huge cost as Dembele was one of the few players utilizing their defensive fragility.
Eventually, in the 22nd minute, the little mosquito cut inside to his left foot with one of his most recognized, yet hard to anticipate skills: the fake shot. Exploiting the narrow Betis back-line, he smashed the ball into the far post, handing the Blaugranas a 1-0 lead.
While he occasionally lost possession in amateur ways after scoring the first goal of the day, Dembele wasn’t quite done yet. In the 60th minute of the game, Dembele took a shot at an open net. Still, with Aissa Mandi using his arm to deflect the World Cup Winner’s shot, Barcelona secured themselves a second penalty, which of course Messi unfailingly converted.
Dembele is proving to be a huge advantage for the club in high magnitude fixtures, and if injuries refrain from afflicting his path, he could certainly start living up to his astronomical price tag. Consistent gameplay could be the key to success for him this campaign.
3. Antoine Griezmann, a victim of his own timidness
Antoine Griezmann’s woes in front of goal were once again enough to make spectators tear their hair out in frustration. No matter how hard he tried, how valiant his efforts were in possession, the ball just constantly refused to find the back of the net.
Griezmann had arguably his most prominent performance at home soil, linking play with extreme efficiency, orchestrating moves and advancing the ball whenever an opportunity arose. All he seemed to lack was conviction in the final third. Had the Frenchman scored the abundant chances he had at his disposal, this would have unquestionably been a 10/10 exhibition.
The prime example of Griezmann’s lack of confidence was when he stepped up to take a penalty in the first half. With all eyes pierced on the World Cup Winner, and pressure mounting his shoulders, Griezmann choked embarrassingly, hitting a low powered shot which Bravo successfully anticipated.
Griezmann clearly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders yesterday. (Photo via Getty Images)
Sulking off at half-time, one could only feel pity for the former Atletico man, who had given his all on the pitch, but just could not embrace the back of the net.
However, Messi’s intervention at half-time enabled Griezmann to finally earn himself the goal he had been hankering for so long. Although it was a measly tap-in, it certainly came as a consequence of his general accomplishments on the pitch.
In spite of his confidence looking completely shattered, the 29-year-old produced a well-rounded display. The moment Griezmann revives his self-confidence, he is bound to be an influential figure in the final third.
With his general play looking sublime and him not looking as rebuffed as he previously was, all that remains for him is to get back on the scoring sheets, which a player of his innate calibre is bound to do soon enough.
3 takeaways from Barcelona 4-0 Osasuna
Barcelona returned to winning ways in the league as they humbled Osasuna 4-0 at the Camp Nou, leapfrogging from 14th to 7th in the La Liga table.
Barcelona hosted Osasuna after an impressive display against Dynamo Kyiv midweek. Having rested several players, Ronald Koeman selected arguably the strongest XI available to him for the early kick-off in La Liga against Osasuna. The midweek rest showed as Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong, who did not even travel to Ukraine, had excellent performances.
The team looked sharp, and there was a vast improvement in the overall performance compared to previous league games. Most notably, the attack was more fluid and combined better. There was plenty of neat one-touch exchanges between the forwards and better off the ball runs, courtesy of having a natural #9 in the team. The hard work paid off as all four starting forwards got their name on the scoresheet.
In midfield, Pedri partnered de Jong in the double pivot, and they controlled the game in the first half. Óscar Mingueza justified his inclusion again with a solid and composed performance alongside Clément Lenglet. However, the Frenchman went off injured after twisting his ankle in the second period. This leaves the Catalan side with a severe shortage of first-team centre-backs.
The Spanish giants managed to escape with a clean sheet as the visitors pushed for a goal. Marc-André ter Stegen was determined not to conceded and produced a couple of fantastic reflex saves. Barcelona will need him at his best in the upcoming fixtures, especially with such a depleted defence.
1. Attacking football returns to the Camp Nou
For years now the flowing attacking football associated with Barcelona has rarely been seen from the Blaugrana. Under Ernesto Valverde, the Catalan side were static, lacked pace and relied on captain Lionel Messi to produce something special. This continued under Quique Setién last season. For all his love of brave attacking football, Setién struggled to get his team to break down defences and Barça became too passive and reserved.
At the start of this campaign, Ronald Koeman seemed to have rectified this situation. Convincing wins in the opening two matches had Culés excited for the upcoming season. However, this level soon dropped off and, like with Valverde and Setién, Koeman struggled to find his best-attacking line-up.
Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann were at the helm of every attack by Barcelona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Against Osasuna, this changed as the home side outclassed their opponents. A rested Lionel Messi ran the show for Barcelona and opened the Los Rojillos defence. He scored a stunning solo goal too, beating several defenders and smashing a shot from outside the box passed the goalkeeper.
One of the other positives came from other players stepping up and deciding the match. Too often, the team has looked to Messi to produce something in every game. Antione Griezmann scored a sensational volley and also allowed Philippe an easy tap in. More performances like these from the Frenchman are needed as Griezmann looks like he is regaining some confidence.
“I’m happy with the team’s display and the goal that I scored today. We want to win the title, and we know very well that it is not easy.”Antoine Griezmann | Post-Game Presser
The chemistry between the front four was also a lot better on Sunday afternoon. They were all happy to interchange and combined well, making it difficult for defenders to close down the spaces. The importance of Martin Braithwaite as a striker should not be understated. He helped to create space, pin back the Osasuna centre-backs and made some brilliant off the ball runs. The Dane also took his goal well after the ball bounce around in the box – exactly what a striker should be there for.
2. Intelligent use of the squad depth from Koeman
For the second successive game, the manager rotated his team and gave some of the fringe players valuable minutes. Some of the rotations have come from injures, especially in defence. But, these changes, such as Óscar Mingueza and Sergiño Dest, who have replaced Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto, have proven their level. Even Junior Firpo, who made his season debut midweek and received his first minutes in La Liga on Sunday did not look out of place.
In midfield, Pedri, Sergio Busquets, Carles Aleñá, and Frenkie de Jong all featured in the double pivot at some point in the game. It is promising to see Aleñá featuring in back to back games for the first time in a while. He may have done enough to win Koeman’s trust, and the Dutchman should now have realised his quality and importance to the team.
Busquets returned to action for the first time in a month. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The front four have also been rotated and in the last two games, Barcelona have scored eight goals. Lionel Messi returned from rest and was at his brilliant best again. Martin Braithwaite won a place in the starting eleven after impressing in Ukraine and has scored in both games. Ousmane Dembélé and Francisco Trincão were sharp coming from the bench after being given more game time in recent weeks.
Rotating players is vital for any team that wants to win trophies. In these extremely long and intense seasons, filled with international breaks, midweek cup ties, league games every weekend and the UEFA Champions League, players cannot be expected to play every game and maintain their best levels. Having that squad depth and competition for places is essential as it stops players from getting fatigued and motivates them to earn their starting position every week.
3. Lionel Messi remembers Diego Maradona
Lionel Messi with a heart-felt tribute to the late Diego Maradona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The world of football lost one of its most iconic characters this week – Diego Armando Maradona. The Argentine is routinely considered as one of the greatest ever to play the beautiful game. Maradona was an incredible footballer and is known for his achievements with Napoli and the Argentine national team, in particular.
An often misunderstood and troubled character, the former Barcelona player was at his happiest on the pitch. Off the field, it seems the number 10 struggled with fame. He was hounded by the press and the fanatical supporters constantly, which all got too much for the genius. As Maradona tried to leave this overwhelming environment in Naples, he was held hostage at the club. This clearly affected him as his issues off the field began to escalate.
In the Diego Maradona documentary, his former trainer states that he saw two sides to the player. He explains there was Diego and there was Maradona. Diego was the kind, caring one that wanted to buy a house for his parents to live in. Maradona was the invincible act he took on that never showed any weakness.
When his trainer said this to the Argentine, he replied stating that he knew this, but without Maradona, he would still be living in the shantytown in Villa Fiorito where he grew up.
Maradona had a lot of respect for Lionel Messi, and the two were relatively close. They were often compared due to their style of play and their smaller stature. In tribute to his compatriot passing away, Lionel Messi celebrated his goal by revealing a Newell’s old boys top underneath his Barça shirt. It was a heartfelt gesture to his former mentor and friend.