It finally happened; Culés have been put of their misery tonight as Barcelona put on an absolute show at the Camp Nou against Real Betis. This game, on any other day, would not have been celebrated as much as it is being now, but that is what no wins in four consecutive games in the La Liga does to you.
It was rather eventful from the get-go, as Barcelona attacked the Betis half with intent and pace, creating multiple chances, lined up in the closest thing to a 4-2-4. Barcelona’s attacking intensity was mirrored by Betis, who made no mistake to target the hosts’ right flank in the hope to recreate their 4-3 over Barça from 2018.
A second half masterclass from Lionel Messi, who came on to contribute directly in the form of two goals helped Barcelona seal a 5-2 win in a very open game, with little importance on defending. Barça Universal now runs the rule over the victors from the afternoon.
Ter Stegen: 6.5
The German started his first game in La Liga this season and had a solid game in goals. Though he conceded two goals, there was very little he could have done to prevent them. His defence was shaky ahead of him, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept his composure and tried to keep his team motivated. The 28-year-old made several great saves and was excellent with his distribution of the ball.
Sergi Roberto: 6
Sergi Roberto had a torrid time defending against the Real Betis attackers. He was pulled out of position, and it was too easy for midfield runners to get in behind the Spaniard. Most of the successful attacks of the visitors came down Roberto’s flank. This is not the first time Barcelona’s opponents have exposed this weakness in their defence.
Both of the Andalusian’s goals came from Barça’s right side. For their first goal, the right-back failed to close down the cross properly and deflected it into the path of Antonio Sanabria who finished his chance well. Betis’s second goal came as Gerard Piqué was pulled out of position to cover the right back. The defending was poor from the Catalan side again but especially from Roberto.
Celebrating attacking down Roberto’s flank. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
In contrast, when Los Verdiblancos went down to ten men, the 28-year-old showed how effective he can be going forward. With two assists and more chances created than any other outfield player barring Antoine Griezmann, this is Roberto’s strength when playing at right-back.
Gerard Piqué: 6
Gerard Piqué has not had the best start to the campaign. As the leader of the defence, conceding eight goals in six games is poor for the usual standards he has set at the club. In fact, Barça have only managed to keep three clean sheets in ten games in all competitions this season.
However, the centre-back was not particularly at fault for any of the goals today. He found himself being dragged out to the right as he was forced to cover this area too often. It is a real weakness in the team and needs to be fixed if the Blaugrana are going to challenge for trophies this season.
Apart from this, Piqué had a dependable performance and his distribution was accurate. Though he was not threatened too often, he dealt with Real Betis’s attacks well.
Clement Lenglet: 6
The Frenchman was relatively quiet during the game. Clement Lenglet was rarely called into action as most of the attacks came down the other side. He distributed the ball confidently, and this is a real strength of the former Sevilla man. His left-foot really benefits the team in the build-up play and he can is confident under pressure.
However, it was not a flawless performance from the centre-back as two preventable goals were scored. The Barcelona defence still seem to easy to score goals against. His partnership with Gerard Piqué does not seem as strong as it once was. They both failed to clear the cross for the visitors opening goal, although it did take a deflection.
Jordi Alba: 6.5
Jordi Alba had another impressive display going forward again for the Spanish giants. Ronald Koeman had made it clear that he wanted to see the best version of the left-back this season who has stepped up to this request and is a constant threat down the left flank. This was made easier by Real Betis not attacking down his wing.
The Spaniard always times his runs to perfection and normally delivers a great cross to one of his teammates. The left-back linked up with Lionel Messi perfectly offering himself on the wings and helps pin back the opposition’s wingers. Alba has improved this season and is an important part of this Barcelona side.
Sergio Busquets: 6
Sergio Busquets importance in the team keeps reducing as he goes another game without doing much. The natural order has taken over as the Spaniard fails to compete with players in better shape physically — in terms of both speed and strength.
Despite his two key passes, Busquets is becoming a target for the opposition, who find it easier to dispossess him. Stemming from that, the World Cup winner does not attempt the audacious passes he used to, once.
His inclusion in the team has started to make little to no sense, as not only does it bring the worst out of Frenkie de Jong – through no fault of his own, though, but also because it cuts off a spot in the lineup for Miralem Pjanic, a midfielder whose support base grows with each outing.
Frenkie de Jong: 8
Arguably the best player on the pitch, Frenkie de Jong had a fantastic game controlling the midfield. The Dutchman covered the spaces expertly and pressed the away side relentlessly and was successful in doing so. He also won the ball in advanced positions and also helped out his defence immensely.
It was not just the midfielders impressive defensive display; he kept the tempo of the game alive. The former Ajax midfielder passed the ball quickly and found his teammates in dangerous positions. He also ran with the ball effectively, and his change of pace is a real asset to the squad. De Jong is an engine in the middle of the pitch and can easily glide past anyone pressing him.
This was a complete performance from the 23-year-old and hopefully keeps this level up. He has the ability to dominate games and really lift the tempo of Barcelona, which sometimes suffers due to tiredness.
Ousmane Dembele: 7.5
Slowly, but steadily, Ousmane Dembele is finding his feet at Barcelona this season after a long-term injury. He made it clear today with another dynamic display at the Camp Nou.
He scored the opener for Barcelona in the first half with a stunning goal which nearly burst the net into shreds. The goal gave him a lot of confidence as he showed more intent and took responsibility on and off the ball.
📊 — Dembélé has scored 22 goals for Barcelona, 11 with his left foot and 11 with his right. pic.twitter.com/CDO3L5IYyf— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 7, 2020
Unlucky to not end the game with a brace, at the very least, as his effort in the second half was blocked off the line by Aissa Mandi with his hand. He was sent off, without much rebellion, and five minutes later the 23-year-old was subbed off.
Antoine Griezmann: 8
A rollercoaster of a performance if we ever saw one — Griezmann came into the game with a clear intention, to prove to fans and the coach that he can handle proceedings without Lionel Messi next to him.
With that in mind, the World Cup winner attempted multiple shots, most of which failed to meet their target. Despite that, he was clearly the protagonist for Barcelona in attack, and only got his head low after missing the spot kick against Claudio Bravo.
That was rock bottom for him, however, as he came into the second half with a fresher mind, coupled with the inclusion of Messi, which helped him bag a goal four minuted into the half, after a dummy by the captain found him in front of an empty net. One thing was clear: playing him in his natural position helped him make runs off the ball and create chances for himself.
Jury still out on Griezmann? (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
It is clear that at 17, Pedri is not meant to start every game for Barcelona at the highest level, and mismanagement like the one he is receiving may come to bite him.
The Spaniard was barely involved in the game, capping off the first 45 with just one chance created, for Griezmann. The second half did him no good, either, as his role on the left often left him too segregated from the team. Through all the luck in the world, though, he got his first goal in La Liga, as he was able to connect from a pass from Sergi Roberto, initially intended for Martin Braithwaite.
Ansu Fati: 7.5
Starting in the capacity of a natural number 9, Ansu Fati enjoyed a rather eventful half, after which he was subbed off owing to an injury scare.
With his 45 minutes, however, Fati was constantly involved in the attack, making space for him in front of the Betis defence, and playing clever passes from and into the final third. This included a spectacular pass to Antoine Griezmann whose shot missed the post by margins.
He made his best contribution before going off a pass by Jordi Alba found him in the box, after which he was tripped by Aissa Mandi. Barcelona were awarded a penalty, which was eventually missed by Antoine Griezmann, but that cannot be help against Fati.
Lionel Messi: 9
Inarguably the best performer of the game, Lionel Messi changed the game as soon as he came on at the halfway mark. The team reeked of more confidence and it was visible with each touch, pass, and shot.
His first contribution was setting up Antoine Griezmann for his goal as he faked a grounded cross from Alba, which fooled the backline, leaving the goal all but marked. The sheer presence of mind in this goal was unreal.
To top of it off, Messi then scored a penalty in the 60th minute following a handball in the box by Aissa Mandi. And just when his work was done, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner skipped past two challenges and absolutely thumped the ball into the roof of the net from close range to make it four for Barcelona on the night, and one for himself in terms of open goals this season. An impact like none other.
Fransisco Trincao: 7.5
Martin Braithwaite: N/A
Miralem Pjanic: N/A
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.