Barcelona twice came from behind to beat Real Betis 3-2 in a thriller at the Benito Villamarin on Sunday, as they moved back to within three points of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
A Sergio Canales penalty and a Nabil Fekir goal had twice given the home side the advantage but Barca responded each time, first through Frenkie de Jong and then through Sergio Busquets on the stroke of half-time.
Defender Clement Lenglet then headed Barca into the lead in the 72nd minute before the game descended into chaos, with Fekir and Lenglet both receiving their marching orders for picking up second bookings in a frantic finale.
It’s difficult to state the importance of this Barcelona win for so many reasons. At 2-1 down, they risked slipping six points behind Madrid, who won earlier in the day at Osasuna. They were also facing a third straight defeat away from home in all competitions, following losses at Valencia and Athletic Bilbao. To come from behind and win on the road will provide a huge confidence boost, especially with trips to Napoli and Real Madrid to come next.
At the heart of the win, once again, was Lionel Messi. While the goals came from rare sources, the Argentine was the common denominator: he set them all up. Along with De Jong, he was Barca’s best player and the Catalans won’t worry too much about his bizarre dry streak in front of goal in La Liga. He’s had nearly 30 shots in his last three league matches without scoring.
Barca were exposed at the back by Betis, and their lack of squad depth means they are likely to continue to suffer in defence. Lenglet’s red card means he will be banned for next week’s game against Getafe, although Gerard Pique will be back from his suspension.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Quique Setien mixed the formation up once again, opting for a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield on his return to Betis, who he coached for two years until last summer. Things didn’t go well in the first half but his substitutions helped steady things after the break.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 — Could do little about either goal in the first half (a penalty and a really good Fekir finish) and was once again really good with his feet.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 5 — Backed off Fekir for Betis’ second goal, allowing his former Lyon teammate a free shot on goal. Struggled at times in a right-sided role filling in for suspended Pique.
DF Clement Lenglet, 5 — An eventful night for the Frenchman. Gave away an early penalty for handball but made up for it by heading Barca into a 3-2 lead. Was then sent off for a second booking, though, for a foul on Joaquin.
DF Junior Firpo, 5 — A surprise pick at left-back against his former side but didn’t even make it to the hour mark before being replaced by Alba.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 — As well as providing the base for Barca’s midfield, he also pushed forward whenever possible. That meant he was in the right place at the right time to prod home Barca’s equaliser when the ball fell to him from a Messi free kick.
MF Sergi Roberto, 5 — Dallied on the ball too much and was caught in possession too many times. That led to too many fouls and one booking, which very easily could have become two.
MF Frenkie de Jong, 8 — Started and finished the move which led to the first goal on a really good night for the Dutchman. Assertive in possession, good on the ball and direct when he had to be.
MF Arturo Vidal, 4 — Gave the ball away for the second Betis goal and was later booked for a really nasty challenge on Fekir. Did not look happy when he was then taken off early in the second half, but he could have few complaints.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 — Came close to scoring on several occasions, twice denied by Joel Robles and later chipping wide with an effort which drew parallels with the goal he scored at the Benito Villamarin last season. In the end, had to make do with being Barca’s chief creator, setting up all the goals and generally being involved with everything good his side did.
FW Antoine Griezmann, 6 — Worked hard and helped out in defence but didn’t offer nearly enough in the final third. With Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele out, Barca need more quality from the World Cup winner.
MF Arthur, 6 — Did well when he came on, keeping the ball and looking to create in the final third.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 — A bit more active than Junior but didn’t have a huge amount to do in the half an hour he was involved.
MF Ivan Rakitic, N/R — A late replacement for Griezmann as Barca reshuffled following Lenglet’s dismissal.