Real Betis have been playing some brilliant football this season and it was always going to be a herculean task to go there and get the 3 points. But guess what?
Real Betis 0-5 Barcelona
Yet another wonderful display of football in the 2nd half has given us all of the 3 points. This season, Betis have played a surprisingly similar style of football to us. They are also setup in a 4-3-3 with a single pivot (usually Javi Garcia) sitting in between the centre-backs. There is a lot of movement provided by the front three comprising of Sergio Leon, Cristian Tello & the experienced Joaquin Sanchez.
Coming back to the game yesterday, their hard work off-the-ball was really noteworthy as their pressing cramped us for space and did not give us any freedom to play out from the back freely. Betis also looked threatening a few times they had tried to attack us but there weren’t many clear cut opportunities for either sides in the first-half.
What happened in the 2nd half was a story similar to those we had written against Real Madrid & Real Sociedad. The continuous high-pressing by Betis only caused them to slow down as the game gradually unfolded. It is not humanly possible for players to keep pressing high throughout the game and thus it should be done in phases than doing it constantly. The reason why teams like Barcelona, Manchester City do the high-pressing successfully is because they do it in short-stints like for 7-8 seconds immediately after losing the ball.
While what our opponents haven’t realised is that Barcelona have become pragmatic under Valverde. We allow opponents to have the ball, we don’t remain adamant on following the principles and we are more tactically flexible now. So whenever our opponents press us high, we tend to allow the press to keep happening to tire them out and just ensure that we don’t concede during that period. The plan worked to perfection as we went into half-time at 0-0.
In the 2nd half, there were many instances were Real Betis switched off at the back, their pressing wasn’t up to the mark and our team combined to break them down at every opportunity. It is difficult to choose which of the 5 goals were the best but in my opinion, the opening goal was the most satisfying one. Not only because it was the first goal but also because of the tactical intelligence of our players who drew the Betis back four out of shape.
How did it happen?
As you may have seen, the Betis defenders were constantly marking our attackers touch-tight. However, our players were smart enough to realise this and use it to our advantage to open them up. Things weren’t really working for us till we were trying to play out from the back with short passes as the midfield had been crowded out with Betis going man-to-man.
Hence we opted for a different route and this was where we showed our tactical brilliance. We had Rakitic, Gomes, Suarez, Messi & Roberto all in the same line and higher up the pitch (almost like 5 attackers). This move was to push actually to push Betis defenders into their own half, so that we gain space to build-up play. But even then Betis decided to remain man-to-man and they had deployed 5 players against our 5 players up front. Now it was simply a case of drawing them deeper into our own half and releasing the killer pass. Umtiti passed the ball to Rakitic who then played a short pass to Gomes. Gomes had pulled the Betis right-back along with him already. Suarez also stayed deep to pull out the centre-back of Betis to create a huge gap in their defensive shape. Rakitic didn’t think twice before running into the gap and it only took a simple through ball for Suarez to put Rakitic 1v1 with Betis goalkeeper Adan, who was beaten by a simple finish.
Here is the goal for a better understanding:
After the first goal, Betis already looked like they had been out-smarted by Barcelona. The remaining 4 goals were all of our players’ individual brilliance. It was Busquets for the 2nd goal who had the presence of mind to release Messi the next second after winning the ball. The 3rd goal might have looked easy but the cross by Rakitic from a very tight angle allowed Suarez to volley it past Adan. Within 10 minutes from the first goal, we were 3-0 up and the last couple of goals were simply owing to the best player in the world Lionel Messi.
At one point, Messi was simply toying with the Betis defenders and going past them like they didn’t exist. His acceleration, close control and change of directions were too much for Betis players to handle and towards the end of the game, there were sections of Betis fans who chanted ‘MEEEEEESSSSIIIIIIII, MEEEEEESIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!” as they were simply humbled by the little genius that he is.
It was certainly one of the best performances of the season by us and we looked at our best despite our midfield maestro Andres Iniesta not available. In the entire game, the only negative factor was Vermaelen’s injury that has put him out of action for 2 weeks. We were lucky enough to have Umtiti back on the bench for this game or else we might have not had any alternative to replace Vermaelen. With Mascherano also injured and about to sign for another club, we can only hope that our latest CB signing Yerry Mina is able to fit into the eleven sooner than later.
Our next game is the Copa del Rey 2nd leg against Espanyol at the Camp Nou and most probably we would be having Iniesta back for that fixture. With the boys looking a fearsome force, I don’t think turning around the first leg deficit of 1-0 would be a huge problem. We all know how opponents suffer at the Camp Nou especially when the try to defend a lead and given our current form, it is expected that we go through to the next round.