A huge win for Xavi’s side
Barcelona show off their Joao Factor
Barcelona started both Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo for the first time against Real Betis and saw both players shine in a superb performance from the Catalans.
Joao Felix opened his account in some style on Saturday. The Portugal international may have fluffed his volley but he did brilliantly to follow it up, nick the ball past the goalkeeper and score from a very tight angle.
The new arrival then played a key role in Barcelona’s second goal, allowing the ball to run through to Robert Lewandowski to finish with a clinical strike and double the hosts’ lead.
There was plenty more from the new signing too in a lively first start. Yet Cancelo was not to be outdone and ensured his name was also on the scoresheet by the time the final whistle blew.
The Manchester City loanee scored Barca’s fifth of the night to cap a great evening. Right-back has been a problem at Barcelona for way too long, but the early signs from Cancelo are very exciting indeed.
Betis defence was made in La Masia
Barcelona hit five against Betis who fielded a very familiar backline at Montjuic. Indeed there were more La Masia graduates in the Betis starting XI than in the one fielded by the hosts.
The visitors even turned up with a backline consisting of four ex-Barcelona players as Hector Bellerin featured alongside Marc Bartra, Chadi Riad and Juan Miranda. Betis also brought Ez Abde back for a reunion, although he had to settle for a place on the bench.
Barcelona went on to put five past Manuel Pellegrini’s side on a night where just about everything went right for Xavi’s side and had the manager purring after the game.
“It was not the perfect game, there are things to improve, but it was an excellent performance. I am satisfied with how the players played with joy and enjoyed themselves,” he said.
“Today it really seemed like we were at Camp Nou. I am happy. The feelings are good. We were exceptional in many moments. This is the path to follow.”
Barca’s shark ends free-kick curse
Ferran Torres was another player who shone at Montjuic. Barca’s ‘Shark’ was rewarded for his good form with a place in the starting XI and he scored again to make it 3-0 just before the hour.
It was a fine goal too by the Spain international. He cleverly curled a free-kick around the wall and low into the corner. The only thing is, as he honestly admitted after the game, that wasn’t quite what he mean to do.
Yet Ferran won’t care and there’s no doubt he’s fast turning his situation around at Barcelona after a difficult time over the last year or so.
His goal also ends Barcelona’s long drought from direct free-kicks, with Ferran becoming the first player to net since Lionel Messi left the club over two years (and 41 attempts) ago.
Gavi back where he belongs
One player who was not on the scoresheet but was without doubt one of Barca’s most important and effective players was Gavi. The teenager was back in midfield against Betis and showed that really is where he belongs.
“It’s hard for me to take Gavi off the pitch. He’s fast, he makes recoveries, great pressure… He’s the heart of the team,” said Xavi after the match following another sublime performance from the youngster.
And Gavi’s showing will have given Xavi plenty to think about. The teenager was back in midfield as Barcelona were without Ilkay Gundogan and Pedri, while the arrival of Joao Felix and emergence of Lamine Yamal have also given Xavi more options in attack.
The strength in depth in Xavi’s squad now means that it’s not entirely clear what his best midfield is when everyone is fit. One thing seems certain though, it would be almost impossible to leave Gavi out.
Barcelona click into gear ahead of Champions League return
Barcelona hadn’t been entirely convincing in the early weeks of the season but certainly clicked into gear and then some against Betis. Games after the international break can often be hit and miss but Barca were back and having some serious fun.
All of which is perfect preparation for the return of the Champions League. Europe is Barca’s big ambition this season and Xavi could hardly have asked for a better warm-up for the visit of Antwerp on Tuesday.
Barca head into the game with Robert Lewandowski back in the goals, the new signings having hit the ground running and competition for places seemingly bringing out the best in Raphinha and Ferran Torres. Now let’s see how they fare on the European stage.