Barcelona – Real Betis: Champions Elect Move Closer To Their Coronation (4-0)
Real Betis cannot afford to drop points in their hunt for European football in the new season, but their opponents set the tone in this contest. Barcelona were on top of affairs from start to finish and showed once more why they will soon be basking in the glory of winning LaLiga.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
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For all of their expenditure, Barcelona remain a project in the works. Exits from the Europa League to Manchester United and the Copa del Rey to Real Madrid revealed how this outfit has routinely swung from secure to shaky footing. They have stood firm on the former for most of this LaLiga campaign, shipping just 11 goals in the competition. Two draws and a defeat from their last four fixtures have delayed their first crowning as league champions since 2019, but it should only be a matter of time.
The conclusion to the narrative of Real Betis’ season is less sure. In several ways, little has changed. As was the case for the reverse fixture, the visitors entered the clash with the Catalans in sixth place. And like at the start of February, Villarreal occupy fifth position and the assurance of a spot in the Europa League that has been in the hands of the Andalusians over the last two years. Another three points would substantively support the bid of the club to break into the upper quartile of the table.
Xavi brought several figures back into the squad for this match. Pedri made his first LaLiga start for two and a half months away at Rayo Vallecano. Ousmané Dembélé recovered from a hamstring injury to be fit for the bench, and Andreas Christensen was back from a calf injury to partner Ronald Araújo at the heart of the defense. Sergio Busquets, absent in midweek due to suspension, was also in the starting eleven. His job pushed Frenkie de Jong into an interior role and Gavi higher up the field.
Betis manager Manuel Pellegrini is still without the services of Nabil Fekir, who was on the sidelines with an ACL injury. He revised his selection in the middle of the park off the back of a 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad. Andrés Guardado dropped to the bench, and William Carvalho shifted into the double pivot. Sergio Canales slid into the number ten role, and Ayoze Pérez pushed to the left to operate in support of Willian José. Aitor Ruibal also made way for Martín Montoya on the right of the back four.
Barcelona assume control
The dynamics of this contest were similar to the one in February. Betis defended in a 4-4-2 formation where Canales pushed into the first line of the defense next to José. The Catalans wished to atone for their slack showing in midweek and set about dominating the ball. They used their usual box midfield.
Gavi pinched into the center of the field off the left flank, allowing Álex Balde to push higher up the pitch and rotate infield into the final third. Frenkie de Jong was in a lower role to the left of Busquets than Pedri in the right halfspace, looking to retain possession, and Jules Koundé made late advances to the outside of Raphinha. Robert Lewandowski was also an active piece in the game outside the box. He combined with Gavi and Balde out on the left flank, drifted to his favored halfspace, and found suitable gaps to break away from markers in the ball far halfspace to support the transition forward.
Goalmouth action was absent in the first ten minutes after kickoff. Nonetheless, Barcelona quickly made clear their preference for the left flank. Luiz Henrique covered Balde on the wing to help the defense. Ball circulation between de Jong and Busquets forced Betis to adjust, but Lewandowski peeled out too far for Germán Pezzella to track him without the threat of depth runs. If Gavi went to the right, nearer to Pedri, the striker again searched for opportunities to drop off into the halfspace.
4th minute: offensive sequence from Barcelona. De Jong is in possession deep in the left halfspace, baiting out Guido Rodríguez. Busquets shifts across laterally to push the ball between the lines. Gavi runs between Montoya and Luiz Felipe. The defender is unwilling to follow the forward any deeper; Lewandowski can then turn and combine with his teammate, engineering more space on the switch.
His contributions paved the way for the first goal, putting Koundé in a position to earn a corner. Rui Silva punched away Raphinha’s cross, but the next phase of the set-piece caught out the defense. Pedri fed a pass to the right, where his teammate looked for red and blue shirts on the far post. Christensen was the grateful recipient, powering a header past Silva to mark his return to Camp Nou in style.
Three goals, three points in the bag
An injury also forced Felipe off the field, and Edgar González replaced him in the defense. The away team pushed for an equalizer, adopting a 4-2-3-1 offensive structure. Pérez moved inside to free up Juan Miranda as an outlet on the left. On the other hand, Henrique would pit himself more frequently against Balde with linear advances from the right. Betis could not force any openings from their spells in possession, but more problems would eventually rob them of the prospect of picking up any points.
Just past the hour mark, González trod on the boot of Pedri, fouling the midfielder. The referee deliberated and awarded a second yellow card to the defender. The guests were down to ten men as well as a goal behind. The deficit soon doubled. Gavi released Koundé on the right flank, and the fullback drilled a delivery into the penalty area. Lewandowski steered a shot towards the side of the net, tucking the ball out of the reach of the goalkeeper. The night went from bad to worse for Betis.
Pellegrini’s men defended in a 5-3-1 block. Henrique continued to shadow Balde, Rodríguez filled in next to Pezzella in the center of the defense, and Canales shored up the bank of midfielders. Their hosts continued to probe with the extra man and extended their lead even further in the 39th minute. Lewandowski had roamed far over to the left flank, and Raphinha lurked more centrally. A run off the shoulder of Rodríguez broke the lines: Busquets cut open the rearguard, and the winger slotted home.
A productive outing for the Brazilian.
Pellegrini turned to his bench at half time for a substitution to tighten up at the back. He pulled off Henrique, placed Paul Akouokou in the center of the defense next to Pezzella, and returned Rodríguez to the middle of the park. The visitors held on for dignity in a 4-4-1 block. Canales had shifted to the right of the midfield quartet to replace Henrique but did not track back Balde as his teammate did.
It was a valiant effort, but the hosts were never in doubt of a win. An own goal from Rodríguez in the 82nd minute added a fourth to their tally, and it should have been more. Xavi was also free to enter several players into the fray. Christensen came off the pitch after an hour, making way for Marcos Alonso, Dembélé also returned to action, and Yamine Lamal became the youngest debutant for the club in LaLiga at the tender age of 15 years. It was an evening for him and his outfit to remember.
Xavi received the reaction he demanded. Barcelona have restored their 11 point lead at the top of the table and kept their 24th clean sheet in the LaLiga campaign. Their ball dominance and the extra man on the field secured their stability, and a routine victory was the outcome. The Catalans cannot wrap up the title in their clash at home to Osasuna on Tuesday, but the trophy parade is on the horizon.
Betis barely laid a glove on the hosts and can find the most solace in the respectability of the scoreline at the final whistle. Eighteen points are still up for grabs in the league, but Pellegrini’s men have only taken four of the last 18 possible in their previous six LaLiga fixtures. Though the manager reflected on the absentees that are piling up in his squad, he must place most of his focus on the trip to Athletic Club. His men should strive to climb the standings, but another loss would rein in the chasing pack.
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