La Liga Review: Real Betis 2, FC Barcelona 2, Or, That’s All, Folks!By: Ade C. | May 16th, 2012
My deepest apologies for the delay, but we had technical problems with the blog and couldn’t post until today… sorry!
Last Liga match of the season, and there wasn’t much to recommend it apart from, you know, it being Pep’s last match with Barça in La Liga: Betis had no ambitions that would spur them to get a win at all costs, and neither did Barça. It could almost have been a friendly.
Pep chose VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Pedro, Messi and Afellay for his starting XI, leaving Oier, Montoya, Cuenca, Tello, Iniesta, Cesc and Bartra on the bench and Thiago on the stands. Though not exactly the strongest Barça starting XI in existence, it was strong enough to give us a good idea of what we can expect at the Copa del Rey final, while still leaving space for novelties like Afellay, given his first Liga start of the season.
The match started off lively, neither team holding back, and within ten minutes Barça was ahead by mean of -of all things- a set piece and a Busquets goal.
It’s like we’re becoming a team that can actually do things with set-pieces, things that are not wasting them utterly.
Afellay and Pedro were both doing well -a pleasure to see, after the one’s prolongued absence and the other’s dip in form-, the Xavi-orchestrated midfield flowed along nicely (helped by Messi, who dropped deep often) and Keita and Busquets traded places in what could be an interesting move for the future: although Barça has no shortage of talented midfielders, the time might come when we need Busquets to step into a more advanced role.
Meanwhile, at the back, Masche was giving a lesson in being awesome. How he can do the things he does, I have no idea. He tackles someone and is on his feet and chasing the ball before his victim has hit the ground. It’s like gravity doesn’t have the heart to make him follow the same rules as us mortals.
We had a moment of panic when Ibi Afellay was brought down and had to be carried off the pitch between gestures of pain (”Not again!” we cried), but it was only a dislocated finger and he was soon back on, to add his paticular brand of speed and directness to the match.
The game transcurred with little urgency until half time. Barça had chances, but Casto (Betis’ goalkeeper) had good reflexes and kept the scoreline reasonable.
Betis came out on the second half with more purpose, and Dani Alves obliged them with a silly challenge that meant his second yellow card of the match (granted, the Betis player rolled around like a lawn-mower after the foul, but still). Down to 10 men and with Betis on the attack, even Masche’s disregard for the laws of physic and Pep subbing in Montoya for Afellay weren’t enough.
It took Rubén Castro barely 10 minutes after Dani’s sending off to ruin VV’s evening with a goal that was half beating the offside trap, and half VV having already his mind on the holidays (but for Pinto’s unfortunately-timed ankle sprain, he wouldn’t have played).
Three minutes later, VV’s evening was further ruined thanks to Rubén Castro again. The Zamora Award (to the goalkeeper with the best goal/match ratio in La Liga) was at risk. And Barça were losing.
It was the exact same goal as the first one, except that Castro didn’t even bother chipping it and VV didn’t even bother making a real effort at stopping it. Our defence (who amongst them have many virtues, but speed is not one of them) were caught out of position. Not exactly a good sign, considering Athletic de Bilbao.
Since there weren’t really any defensive options on the bench, Pep went attack-minded with this subs, bringing in Tello for Pedro and Iniesta in for Xavi as the match dragged to an end. Barça had a good chance near the end with a Messi FK that hit the goalpost (Messi not only has an obscene amount of goals, but he’s also the player who has hit the woodwork more time in this Liga: 9 times), but it was Keita who’d bring the equaliser in injury time, a good header to an excellent Montoya cross.
So, 2-2 in the end and a somewhat lackluster brooch for Pep’s La Liga run with Barça (then again, he started it off by losing against Numancia, so this might be fitting).
This wasn’t the sort of match that merits detailed player ratings, but allow me to list some thoughts all the same.
-While it’s true that Dani Alves was silly in getting sent off, and that his crosses are more deserving of a NASA study than someone trying to actually convert them into goals, it seems to me that many Barça fans are being too quick in writing him off. Yes, we could possibly get a lot of money for him, and yes, Montoya is not half-bad, but it might not be wise to get rid of such a crucial piece of the team at a time when we’re already going through heavy renovations on the left flank, not to mention that finding someone else with a telepathic connection to Messi might take time.
-Piqué wasn’t disastrous, but he wasn’t particularly good either, and many was the time when Busquets, Keita (and even Messi, once) tracked back to bail him out. Masche is good, but he benefits from having a competent CB partner, so Piqué has 10 days to either improve beyond belief or give us an argument for spending a good chunk of Barça’s transfer kitty in a CB.
-Afellay, Pedro, Cuenca and Tello are all in good form, which is nice… but might present a problem in the future. You know, when Villa is back and Alexis stops getting injured every other week. Where are we going to play them all? Could one or two of them be reconverted into CBs, à la Masche?
With La Liga over, the Zamora and Pichichi awards safely in VV and Messi’s hands, and the Copa del Rey final in the horizon, it’s time to take things easy…
… and what’s that? Dani Alves broke his collarbone this morning at training? Great. That’s exactly what we meant by ‘take things easy’. How many defenders do we have now? (no, Piqué doesn’t count…)