Barcelona qualified for next season’s Champions League with their 2-1 win over Real Betis on Saturday, something that at one point earlier in the campaign looked like being a real challenge.
Do not forget Barca were down in ninth place when Xavi took over in November 2021 but are now in good shape to finish second and, perhaps more importantly, challenge for titles next year.
Typically, Barcelona made hard work of it at the Benito Villamarin but this is another win against a very good side. As Xavi pointed out after the match, Barca have now beaten all the teams in the top 10 since he took over.
It’s not exactly the results that have improved though. Barca have shown improved character, fighting spirit, intensity and desire in the last few months, all key qualities that offer plenty of hope for 2022-23.
Barcelona’s goalscorers will take all the headlines from the win but back-up goalkeeper Neto deserves some praise on what could well have been his last outing in a Blaugrana shirt.
The Brazilian, who was only making his fourth appearance of the season, came in for the ill Marc-Andre ter Stegen and put in a fine performance in the Barcelona goal.
A simply brilliant save from close range to deny Juanmi was the highlight of Neto’s performance at the Benito Villamarin. In total he made four saves throughout the 90 minutes and even got a hand to Marc Bartra’s header but could not quite keep it out.
It’s expected that Neto will move on in the summer in search of more regular football. He’s also out of contract in 2023 which means it’s Barca’s last chance to get any kind of transfer fee for the Brazilian.
Barcelona’s opening goal came from substitute Ansu Fati who arrived in the 75th minute and needed only 75 seconds to score his sixth goal of the season.
Fati had already created danger for Barcelona with his first touch, which allowed Ferran Torres a shot, before he found the back of the net with his second. It was not the cleanest strike Fati will ever hit but it was enough to trundle past Rui Silva in the Betis goal.
That’s now six in 12 for Fati this season, and the youngster’s stats speak for themselves.
3 – Best minutes per goal ratio in LaLiga 2021/22 (2+ goals):
60.7 – ANSU FATI (4G)
93.5 – Karim Benzema (25G)
99 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (9G)
– OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 7, 2022
Xavi was full of praise for the teenager after the game, making it clear just how highly he rates the attacker.
“Ansu has a gift, others find it more difficult. It’s a great feeling to have him back, ”said the coach. “The goal was something we had talked about this week regarding the Betis defensive line. He’s a difference-maker. He just needs half a chance to score, even with a bad shot. ”
It may be mission accomplished for Barcelona regarding Champions League qualification, but the team does still have three games left to play and Xavi is running out of midfielders.
Sergio Busquets was booked against Betis and picked up a one-match ban which means he will have to sit out Tuesday’s visit from Celta Vigo. Xavi is already without Pedri and Nico for the game because of injury.
All of which surely means that Riqui Puig may actually get a start for Barca. The 22-year-old came on as a sub against Betis in what was his first outing since the win over Osasuna back in March.
Puig has not started a game since the Copa del Rey win over Linares in January, when he was hooked at half-time, but it would be a big surprise now if he did not start alongside Frenkie and Gavi on Tuesday.
Barcelona’s winning goal was an absolute banger from Jordi Alba deep into stoppage time which sparked wild celebrations and rightly so. Alba now has two for the season in La Liga and 10 assists which is a fine return from the 33-year-old.
In all competitions he’s only outperformed by Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson when it comes to goal involvements.
3 – Defenders from the top five leagues with the most goal involvements in 2021/22 across all competitions:
20 – Trent Alexander-Arnold (G2 A18)
17 – Andrew Robertson (G2 A15)
15 – JORDI ALBA (G3 A12)
– OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 7, 2022
The other telling stat about Alba’s strike is that it means Barca have now scored the most late goals in La Liga this season, according to Sports. Barca have scored 14 times in the final five minutes and those goals have accounted for 17 of their 69 points.
Late goals are always a thrill and point to something else too, a strong team spirit and desire never to give up.
Bartra’s equalizer, just minutes after Ansu’s opener, had looked like denying Barca victory but they kept on going and claimed all three points with a strike fit to win any game.