La Liga Review: Real Betis 1, FC Barcelona 2, Or, A Lively Sunday Evening… And Yes, A Record.By: Ade C. | December 10th, 2012
Let’s get this out of the way first: Leo Messi scored twice, taking his personal goal count for the year 2012 to 86 goals, thus breaking Gerd Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year. And I love Leo Messi to bits and have loved him since he wore his hair long and wore shirt #19 (when he wore #30 I was merely cautiously optimistic), but I’d like less talk of individual records (as amazing as they might be) and more of team achievements.
Or maybe I’m don’t know on what to spend my Pepssimism lately.
Anyway, the Benito Villamarín is always a tough stadium to play in, and Betis are always a tough costumer. Pepe Mel doesn’t have Bielsa’s hipster cred, but he’s done remarkably well with limited resources. For this tie, then, Tito went with the best at his disposal: VV, Adriano, Piqué, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Pedro, and Messi. Considering current form, this really is the best starting XI that Barça can deploy right now; a week ago, I would have made an argument for Villa’s inclusion, but after his last performance, I don’t feel like arguing.
This shiny starting XI lasted exactly 9 minutes, the time it took Cesc to plop himself on the grass and indicate he needed to come off; Mr Fàbregas has a thigh injury that will see him out for 4 long weeks. Good things don’t last at Can Barça. Alexis came in, then, to celebrate his return from injury, and it was a good thing he did, because he was at hand to open space for Messi to score his first goal of the evening, 15 minutes into the match.
This goal was followed by a great Iniesta shot that Adriano barely palmed away, a chance for Adriano, and a series of occasions that led to, what else, another Messi goal. Record broken, scoreline doubled, all in an evening’s work. But please, watch the magical, mystical, supernatural backheel assist by Andrés Iniesta.
0-2 with an hour to go. A handful of the best players in the world on the pitch. What could possibly go wrong?
Ah, it’s Barça we’re talking about. Of course we were going to concede, unnecessarily and sooner than later, in order to prove wrong all those neutral fans who accuse us of being ‘boring’ and ‘predictable’ and ‘just too damned good’.
Rubén Castro, meet the Barça defence, who couldn’t spring an offside trap on a slug in a full-body cast, mainly because no one has been able to make a Barça player understand the concept of ‘offside’. Once they get into the blaugrana shirt, poof, the idea is lost forever!
1-2 at half-time, and things weren’t quite looking so rosy as they were when the match started. And to make them less rosy, Tito had to make his second forced sub of the evening, bringing Mascherano in for Puyol, who had some discomfort on his right thigh. Good thing Bartra is fit, huh?
Things continued to go downhill as Betis realised that yes, they were in the match, yes, Barça’s defence had the solidity of a blanket fort, and yes, they might be able to sneak in another goal! Fortunately, luck was on Barça’s side, at least for a bit. Luck and Valdés… but mostly, luck and the goalposts.
The magical, magical goalposts:
And this by VV, which is a magical combination of a horrid mistake and a lovely save, because having just one or the other is for lesser teams (at 3:00 on the following video):
By the 60th minute, it was all Betis. Barça were waddling along, trying to sneak in a counter or two into the Betis pressure cooker, mostly fruitlessly. If, in Tito’s words, “the first half an hour was maybe the best Barça have played this season”, they more than made up for it in the second half. The Betis equaliser seemed inevitable, except for those handy goalposts.
It took Tito until the 80th minute to do what he should have done ages before, and took the Amazing Invisible Pedroadrunner and brought in Thiago in his place. Immediately, the change yielded results. Barça were no longer playing with one man less. The ball stayed at Barça’s feet a bit more. Forwards took their chances all the way into Adrián’s box.
And then Lady Luck, fickle force that she is, decided to throw Betis a bone. Or, rather, some of those magical goalposts that had been doing Valdés’ job for him.
The most stressful last 10 minutes in a long, long time, but Barça managed to drag the 1-2 scoreline past the finish line and carry off the three points, to continue their comfortable lead of La Liga.
Barça fans everywhere were reaching for their heart medicine, but I bet neutral fans enjoyed this match immensely!
VV: 7,5. He wasn’t at fault for the Betis goal, and he had some good saves, but if it weren’t for the goalposts, Barça fans might be burning him in effigy right now.
Adriano: 7,5. I’m starting to think I like Adriano more at right-back than I ever did at left-back. He gets… feisty.
Piqué: 7. The Betis pressure left him virtually no time to play striker, which -considering how little our forwards score, and how much our defenders do- might have been a shame.
Puyol: 8. Solid and reliable as usual. Is it too much to hope for that his injury isn’t serious?
Jordi Alba: 7. Less precise than usual; since he could do little on the attack, some of his defensive shortcomings were exposed.
Busquets: 8. Because I said so. Come on, I dare you to tell me what he did wrong! (Kage, I’m looking at you) He also played third centre-back quite a bit during times of high Betis pressure in the second half.
Xavi: 7,5. Had a bit of trouble controlling the midfield as masterfully as he usually does. Had a couple of good shots on goal, though.
Iniesta: 8,5. That backheel assist to Messi is worth eight points alone, but that wasn’t his only moment of brilliance through the match.
Alexis: 7,5. (in for Cesc, who wasn’t there enough to get a rating) Good workrate, got fouled a lot, helped Messi out quite a bit. But, am I naive for expecting him to score a goal at some point?
Messi: 8. He wasn’t brilliant, but he got the job done. And, blah, blah, broken record, blah, blah.
Pedro: 4. Ugh, I hate to do this. I genuinely like Pedrito, but he was less than useless last night.
Mascherano (in for Puyol): 7,5. Did what he could in the face of the Betis storm.
Thiago (in for Pedro): 7. On the one hand, his presence helped settle Barça down, regain possession, and build some chances. On the other, he had such an awful miss in injury time, wasting a great Messi play, that I almost punched my laptop. Thiago needs to take those chances if he wants to make it into the starting XI.
Oh, the MotM? That award goes to the goalposts.
All in all, it was an exciting evening! And Barça won, so all is well that ends well. Let’s just hope that the midweek Copa del Rey match against Córdoba turns out to be a bit more relaxing (and features less injuries).
Some Related Barcelona Posts:
- The Dreaded Green & White: Real Betis – Barcelona La Liga Preview
- El Clásico review: FC Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 2, Or, The Messi and Cristiano Show!