In a stunning night of football Barcelona thrashed Real Betis 5-2 at the Camp Nou.
Betis stunned the Camp Nou by taking the lead but the Blaugrana equalised before half-time and blew their guests away in the second half. What did we learn?
1. Awesome Antoine Arrives
After an underwhelming full debut where he was first used as a touch-line hugging left-winger and then as a centre-forward in a team that couldn’t create chances. Tonight in his home debut he was again up-top but this time playing as part of a side that was playing a much higher tempo and moving the ball with much more sharpness – and as a result he was absolutely awesome.
Griezmann was in his element linking and participating in the rapid fire passing attacks of the Blaugrana, but today he was at his most brilliantly decisive in front of goal. With last season’s three top scorers (Messi, Suárez and Dembélé) ruled out, Barcelona needed a hero and up he stepped. First with a delicious dart in behind and a crisp volleyed finish, and then with a stunning curler to put Barça into the lead.
Two breathtaking goals (and one delightful celebration) were then followed by a supreme assist for Barcelona’s fifth goal. The Frenchman was so supernaturally good that despite his smiles in the crowd, Luis Suárez has to be worried for his place in the side because on the evidence of tonight Antoine Griezmann is Barcelona’s striker for the here and now. Fast, sharp, technically skilled with a goalscoring touch: Antoine is awesome and he has truly arrived.
2. The double-edged sword of Sergio Busquets
After missing out opening week, Sergio Busquets was absolutely mesmeric for 99.9% of the match against Real Betis. He ruthlessly dominated the game from start to finish, passing the ball with phenomenal precision and keeping the Blaugrana on the front foot in the exact way that they needed in the loss at the San Mamés. Even when Betis were leading, Barça were superior thanks to Busquets.
Of course Betis were also leading thanks to Busquets, because for all the slickness that their opening goal entailed, it all stemmed from a horrible Busquets pass across midfield. Yes Rafinha was sleeping and let Sergio Canales pounce, but the Busquets pass covered such a huge distance in such a dangerous area. It was a sloppy mistake, but the kind of sloppy mistake that Busquets seems to be prone to making every now and again.
It’s also the kind of mistake that Ernesto Valverde is just going to have to deal with because the alternative is a Barcelona midfield that moves the ball at a much slower pace and is thus much, much easier to shut out as we saw week one. Busquets these days is a double-edged sword but he’s one you’re going to keep on swinging because that dude can slice a team up real nice.
3. Fekir worth his weight in gold
“Worth their weight in gold” is a classic idiom that perfectly describes just how valuable footballers are, and Nabil Fekir showed just how valuable he could possibly be for Real Betis this coming season. The Frenchman was an absolute dynamo at the Camp Nou despite being a liquid playmaker in a side that barely had any possession.
Still, when chances came his way he cut through Barcelona like a hot knife through butter. No one in the Blaugrana could get anywhere near him, and the sharpness of his finish when put through by Loren rendered the shot utterly unsaveable. Fekir was happy to be Betis’ talisman and you can’t help but feel that when they get to play against teams that aren’t Barcelona he will do so much damage.
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4. Carles Perez puts Ousmane Dembélé on notice
Ousmane Dembélé is unquestionably a better footballer than Carles Perez, but here’s the thing: in the Barcelona system that doesn’t always mean he will play better by pure dint of his genius alone. Dembélé has all the tools to be a perfect fit for the Blaugrana but he too often seems to be a half-step behind his team-mates. It’s like you can see his brain working out what he has to do next, and often this extra dithering just kills attacks stone dead as opponents re-adjust their defensive positioning.
Carles Perez is not the most talented player around, but he “gets it” at Barcelona. This is because he’s been at the club since he was 14, and it really shows. His touch is sharper, he moves the ball faster and harder and his head is always up. Even when he makes the wrong decision (and he did it a bunch against Betis) he attacked the ball with so much drive and pressed so hard to win it back that you’re alright with it.
And of course when the chance presented itself to score, he did so wonderfully. Pulling of a delightful body feint to give him the yard in which to shoot and then slapping it through bodies and into the back of the net. Ousmane Dembélé is now on notice: he has to work hard and perform consistently or there’s another young winger more than ready to take his place in the side (maybe even in the squad). Hell, if tonight is the evidence there might be two young wingers after Dembélé…
5. Panic over?
After Barcelona lost opening week to Athletic Club and then all three of last season’s top scorers went down injured there was an unmistakable sense of panic amongst fans of the Blaugrana. The Neymar deal was only making things worse (whether you were for or against the deal) and stress levels were rising for the Catalan club. Would this be the start of an imminent collapse?
Well, maybe not.
After a ropey first go at it, Antoine Griezmann was masterful in his second week. Sergio Busquets returned to the midfield and immediately the whole thing made sense again. Nelson Semedo is gathering speed and getting ready to take-off. Carles Perez looks a decent back-up winger for a club that appeared to have none. Rafinha worked hard enough to finally secure a move away. 16-year-old Ansu Fati came off the bench for a cameo and looked really, really bright. And to cap it all off: they were fun! Barça were genuinely a joy to watch!
There’s obviously still things to improve on: Clement Lenglet still looks a poor fit next to Gerard Piqué as it exposes Barcelona to counter-attacks too much. Frenkie de Jong will definitely need a run of games next to Sergio Busquets to really hit his stride in that role. Riqui Puig is still nowhere to be seen and even though Ansu was great he is just 16 so probably can’t be relied on for the season.
Still, though, it’s a big step forward in a season that will need several of them.