To call the first half unlucky would be more or less apt; starting without Lionel Messi was never going to be easy, but the team did well to control the tempo of the game and maintain pressure on Real Betis throughout the 90 minutes.
The credit for a that goes to Frenkie de Jong, who was constantly at the helm of things, winning back possession in the middle of the park before launching counter attacks through quick, intricate passes. In fact, he managed to involve the usually below-par Sergio Busquets in the game as well, covering from him in the defence while the Spaniard looked for through balls.
Special shoutout to Antoine Griezmann, who showed that he could take over responsibilities from Messi when needed. Yes, he missed chances. Yes, he failed to convert a penalty. But, he showed intent, did not stop making runs into the box, nor did he stop making lethal passes.
Furthermore, he showed that he is more than capable of carrying the ball, and if push comes to shove, he can shoot from distance as well, coming oh-so-close to scoring—just one of those days for him.
With Ansu Fati out for a while, now, Culés will hope that the Frenchman is able to shoulder some of the duties from Leo, and gains some confidence which will be crucial as the fixtures continue to get tighter.
Overall, as a team though, the first half was convincing, but the second was several steps above, courtesy to the introduction of none other than Messi. It is true that the team performed in his absence, but were missing that spark.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner brought the team together, set up Griezmann’s goal – in a way – and then went on to score two more. One of them from open play, no less, ripping the roof the net.
In a game where the team scored five, with goals coming from four different attackers, it would be unfair to single out anyone from the forward line.
We all know where that one landed. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
Griezmann was burdened with the extra pressure of leading the line in the absence of Lionel Messi, and apart from the penalty — which he missed in typical Messi fashion — the World Cup winner did well.
Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati were lethal and gave the defenders a run for their money. The former scored the opener for Barcelona with a stunning solo effort, while the latter won the penalty just when the first half was coming to a close.
Pedri capped off the proceedings with a late goal — his first in La Liga — in a game he looked rather lethargic. Why won’t he be? This was his fifth start in a row, at the age of 17.
Finally, Messi’s second-half masterclass helped seal, sign and deliver the result. Signs of better things to come, and truth be told, it will be difficult not to be impressed with the team’s attacking prowess. The defence? Well, the less said, the better. Hopefully, the International Break comes as a blessing for Ronald Koeman before he takes on Joao Felix and Atletico Madrid.