Real Betis vs. Barcelona: 6 Things We Learned
A trip to this part of Andalusia is always a test for any visiting team, and Pepe Mel wasn't going to allow some disappointing form get in the way of how he would set his stall out in this one.
Tata Martino continues to just "get on with it." As we approach mid-November, a pragmatic approach to every game has seen him yet to lose a game of any description. A quite astonishing statistic.
Let's take a look at six things we learned from the match.
The Continuing Emergence of Marc Bartra
Tata Martino elected to leave Gerard Pique at home and pair the returning Carles Puyol with young Marc Bartra.
Frankly, the young Catalan could’ve done nothing more to persuade Martino to give him a more permanent residency at the heart of the Barca defence.
Strong in every tackle, his timing was perfect and he covered the ground with ease to rebuff any danger.
A magnificent goal-saving challenge on 50 minutes was the highlight of an accomplished performance.
A growing confidence in the role is in stark contrast to the error-prone Pique.
Food for thought, Tata?
Betis Deserving of Bottom Place in La Liga?
Right from the off, and not unexpectedly, Real Betis stood up to be counted against their more celebrated opponents.
Despite having nine first-teamers unavailable, Pepe Mel’s bottom-placed side looked anything but in the opening exchanges.
That Neymar’s opener was against the run of play gives a flavour of how poor the Blaugrana had been to that point, even if they were to step things up thereafter.
The manager and supporters of the Beticos will expect more performances to the standard of the first 30 minutes throughout the rest of this La Liga season.
No Protection for Neymar and Messi
Perhaps his reputation precedes him, but Neymar was afforded no protection from the officials this evening.
Time and again he was buffeted, bullied and harangued, but the referee was content to let things go in the main. Marcus Steinhoffer’s assault on the Brazilian as early as the 12th minute, that went unpunished, set the tone for the rest of the match.
However, the challenge which saw Lionel Messi leave the field was criminal in its intent.
That the official didn’t even produce a yellow card for that challenge is indicative of the refereeing standards in Spain.
Superior Victor Valdes
The first-class concentration levels and goalkeeping excellence of Victor Valdes were once again to the fore in this game.
Twice in two first half minutes, Valdes produced saves that were simply world class.
Out quickly to deny Jorge Molina after a period of relative inactivity, Valdes then produced something akin to the famous Gordon Banks save from Pele.
Covering the entire width of the goal as he raced to the right-hand side, Valdes managed to push Juan Carlos’ header aside, hitting the post as he did so.
A last minute penalty to deny him a clean sheet was hard luck on the keeper.
A stunning performance.
A Convenient Two Week Break for Messi?
The evidence was there for all to see, the challenge on Messi disgusting.
If the officials had the benefit of slow motion replays, then Real Betis would certainly have been a man lighter for the rest of the game.
However, the Argentine has survived closer attention than that which he received tonight.
A distinct lack of urgent medical assistance both as Messi stood by the touchline, and whilst on the bench, suggest that the injury is perhaps not as bad as feared.
It affords the player a two week rest coming as it does at the start of international week. Games that mean nothing as the Albiceleste have already qualified for World Cup 2014.
State of the Pitch
For a top level fixture, the state of the Betis pitch was simply not good enough.
Threadbare in places, as early as the fourth minute a sliding tackle from Alex Song took up a huge divot of the pitch.
By half-time, the pitch had cut up so badly, it’s a wonder either team could play any sort of cohesive football.
It was more paddy field than lush green carpet.