Real Betis Shock Barcelona, Returning Lionel Messi with 4-3 Win in La LigaNovember 11, 2018
Real Betis pulled off a major upset during Sunday's La Liga action by beating Barcelona 4-3 at the Camp Nou. Lionel Messi scored twice on his return to the starting XI, but he and his team-mates were well beaten by the visitors, who played a phenomenal match.
Junior Firpo and Joaquin gave Betis a two-goal lead with expert counters in the first half, taking advantage of some dreadful transition defence. Messi pulled one back from the penalty spot before a Marc-Andre ter Stegen blunder saw Giovani Lo Celso restore the two-goal advantage.
Arturo Vidal made it 3-2 to set up a tense finale, but Ivan Rakitic was sent off for a second bookable offence and Sergio Canales made it 4-2 soon after. Barcelona got back to within one via Messi but couldn't find the equaliser.
Per sportswriter Michael Yokhin it had been some time since Betis won at the Camp Nou:
Betis have struggled for consistency all season long, but Sunday's win may just be what the team needed to jump-start its domestic campaign. Betis had failed to win any of their last four La Liga matches.
Barcelona Must Do a Better Job Shielding Defence
Betis came out with a perfect gameplan Sunday but were greatly aided by Barcelona's miserable transition defence as the hosts gifted them chance after chance on the break.
The opener came after a phenomenal pass from William Carvalho, but Firpo had it far too easy once he cut inside. Joaquin's goal was a complete mess, with the veteran taking advantage of numerical superiority inside the box, per sportswriter Dermot Corrigan:
It's easy to blame the defenders and goalkeeper when you concede two goals in one half, but Barcelona's midfielders did nothing to shield the back line, and the forwards didn't bother to track their men. This left Clement Lenglet, Gerard Pique and the full-backs completely isolated with disastrous results.
Even the third goal, a howler from Ter Stegen, saw Lo Celso with far too much space to shoot initially.
Per Goal's Tom Storer the Blaugrana are on their worst defensive run in 20 years. They haven't kept a clean sheet in 10 straight La Liga matches.
If the Catalans want to end their barren run in Europe, they'll have to do a far better job tracking back, or teams superior to Betis will feast.
Dembele Has Run Out of Chances
Ousmane Dembele dominated headlines heading into this match, with the 21-year-old taking a spot in the stands. Per Sport's J. Gil, he arrived late for training and has fallen out with the squad, while a stomach bug also contributed to his not participating.
As the match kicked off, reports emerged he had arrived late once again, this time as a spectator:
Sports writer Sid Lowe noted this was the type of match where the Catalans could have used their young speedster:
Dembele has bags of talent but is headed down the wrong path at the Camp Nou. Manager Ernesto Valverde no longer seems to trust the Frenchman, and his arriving late yet again won't help matters.
He has become a major distraction and a target for the press at this point, and there's no indication things will change for the better. A January move seems the best for everyone involved at this point.
Real Betis Prove They're Champions League-Worthy
Betis were a popular pick as a dark-horse contender for the Champions League spots coming into the season after a great summer on the transfer market.
The Andalusians have flashed their talent at times―especially in Europe―but consistency has been a major issue, and they sit well below where they were expected to be in the standings.
Sunday was a spectacular reminder of how good they can be, however:
This team appears to be rounding into form, and if they do, they should be able to contend for a top-four finish, with Valencia struggling and Sevilla just a few points ahead.
After the international break, Barcelona visit Atletico Madrid on November 24. Betis pay a visit to Villarreal the following day.