Barcelona got their La Liga season off to a winning start on Sunday, beating Real Betis 2-0 at a emotional Camp Nou following a pair of terrorist attacks in Catalonia.
Captain Lionel Messi led by example with Gerard Deolofeu and Paco Alcacer struggling to fill Suarez and Neymar’s shoes up front.
Messi smashed an early free-kick off the post and his presence was enough to pressure Alin Tosca to turn Deoulofeu’s low cross into his own net for the opener nine minutes before half-time.
Deulofeu was the provider once more when Barca doubled their advantage three minutes later as Sergi Roberto slotted home from close range.
Here’s our two good and two bad performances from the Camp Nou.
Barcelona’s key man alongside Lionel Messi.
The Manchester United target was a totemic presence all evening and weighed in with a superb goal to double Barcelona’s advantage just before the break.
Gerard Deulofeu came bounding down along the by-line, cut inside and slipped a cleverly weighed ball into the path of Sergi who netted from eight yards.
When provided with the space, the Spaniard was lethal and showed his intelligence with solid passing and movement to help seal three points for Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Another trademark performance from the young Portuguese defender, who will surely create plenty of goals as the season progresses.
He was like a terrier bounding forward and was always hungry to get on the ball.
Made some important interventions as Barcelona held on for an easy win.
Struggled to contain the strong running of Deulofeu and Sergi throughout the contest – and was unfortunate to be caught on the end of an intended pass to Messi which resulted in an own goal by the Romanian.
It’s harsh to say he looked out of his depth but wasn’t helped by the inconsistent Zouhair Feddal who was meant to be the fulcrum of the Betis defence.
One of the poorest performers at the Camp Nou.
Nothing seemed to go right for the young Argentine who squandered possession on a number of occasions and couldn’t spark any breakthrough for the away side.
A tough match was expected, but the 20-year-old has to step up his performance.
No Neymar, no Suarez, no Iniesta…no problem for Barcelona, who were far too good for Real Betis as they started their league campaign with a comfortable win to put their recent problems to one side.
Two goals in three minutes shortly before the break – an own goal from Alin Tosca and a simple finish for Sergi Roberto – did the damage, and it was no more than the home team deserved for a confident and purposeful performance.
There was never any doubt about the outcome after the deadlock was broken, with disappointing Betis not even mustering a single shot on target all night, and although Barca will face tougher challenges this at least gives them something to build on.
Despite their poor form coming into the season, Barca started well following a minute’s silence to remember the victims of last week’s terror attack in the city, and they should have taken the lead after just two minutes when Roberto advanced to cut back a low cross which Gerard Deulofeu could only stab wide.
An opening goal for the hosts was starting to look inevitable as Betis struggled to escape their own half, and Deulofeu had a shot blocked from ten yards before Messi came within inches with another curled strike midway through the opening period.
Eventually the pressure paid off as Messi advanced to feed Deulofeu, and his prompt first-time cross took an unfortunate deflection off Tosca to slide into the far corner.
Betis were nearly level immediately when striker Leon raced clear only to be denied by Javier Mascherano’s superb recovery challenge, and within seconds it was 2-0 as Deulofeu did well to win possession and deliver a precise cross to give Roberto a tap-in.
Here, Andy West delivers his player ratings from the Camp Nou.
Ter Stegen 6
Alba 7 (Digne)
Deulofeu 7 (Vidal)
Alcacer 5 (Denis)
Narvaez 6 (Garcia)
Camarasa 5 (Ruiz)
Nahuel 4 (Francis)
The 2017/18 La Liga season kicks off on Friday as Leganes host Alaves and our team of writers have put their necks on the line and made their predictions for the new campaign.
Champions, relegation, biggest flop and who’ll score more between Ronaldo and Messi are all topics for prophecy.
Check out our writers’ predictions below!
James Piercy – Real Madrid
Given Barca’s struggles and an ageing team, and Atletico’s inability to strengthen, Madrid – who have class from from front to back – should enjoy a relatively comfortable march to the title.
Alex Rea – Real Madrid
Naturally, without Neymar, Barcelona have regressed, while Madrid have progressed thanks to their investment in youth and it’s that freshness, married to an experienced core, which will see them defend the title.
Andy West – Real Madrid
Two world class players for every position, a smoothly functioning playing system and a sensible coach. What’s not to like?
Brendon Netto – Real Madrid
Their squad appears significantly stronger than their rivals and the new system suits their personnel while ensuring their evolution.
James Piercy – Alaves, Leganes, Getafe
If anything, Alaves peaked too soon and last season’s heroics have seen them stripped of all assets. Leganes escaped last year but haven’t been able to add enough quality while Getafe look goal-shy with a not particularly impressive defence, either.
Alex Rea – Alaves, Las Palmas, Leganes
Girona will survive thanks to the assistance of Man City but Alaves have had their squad and backroom staff decimated and will go down, as will Las Palmas and Leganes.
Andy West – Las Palmas, Deportivo and Leganes
Las Palmas have lost their coach and best players, Deportivo won’t score goals and Leganes lack quality all over the park.
Brendon Netto – Leganes, Girona, Levante
Leganes narrowly avoided the drop last season but haven’t strengthened, while Girona simply don’t have enough quality, and Levante have sold two of their best players in Deyverson and Camarasa.
James Piercy – Ryad Boudebouz (Real Betis)
A great under-the-radar signing by Betis with the Algerian capable of the unorthodox and transforming a game in an instant.
Alex Rea – Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
A future Ballon d’Or winner. Blessed with the right attitude and supreme skill, it will be a thrill to see him enter the first team on a consistent basis.
Andy West – Pablo Fornals (Villarreal)
Versatile and talented young midfielder who showed great promise at Malaga and can now shine in a better team at Villarreal. Could challenge for Spain’s World Cup squad.
Brendon Netto – Isco (Real Madrid)
He was Real Madrid’s main man during their run-in last season and I am relishing the prospect of him featuring prominently from the start this time around.
James Piercy – Villarreal
Carlos Bacca’s arrival is potentially seismic and the Yellow Submarine possess so much creative talent they should be able to out-gun their rivals for the Champions League.
Alex Rea – Atletico Madrid
Are fortunate they’ve been able to hold onto Antoine Griezmann because their inability to add to the squad will see a Sevilla side, who have bought well, close the six-point gap from last term and take third.
Andy West – Villarreal
Sevilla have bundles of talent but are lacking in goalscorers, while Villarreal have strengthened in that area – especially with the addition of Bacca – and are the more complete team of the chasing pack.
Brendon Netto – Sevilla
Have made a few good additions in attack with Muriel, Nolito and Banega. Expect them to maintain their form from last season.
James Piercy – Messi
The Argentine will be expected to play every minute of every league game, Ronaldo won’t. Nor will he need to.
Alex Rea – Messi
Messi will assume even greater importance with the divorce of ‘MSN’, while Zinedine Zidane has tactically started to alleviate the goalscoring pressure from Ronaldo.
Andy West – Messi
Madrid’s awesome depth of talent will allow them to give Ronaldo regular breaks, especially when the Champions League properly kicks in, so he’ll play fewer matches.
Brendon Netto – Messi
Ronaldo may bag more crucial goals but expect Messi to end up with more as he’ll play more regularly. He already has a head start with the Portuguese’s ban enforced.
James Piercy – Paulinho (Barcelona)
He won’t be bad, he won’t be good… he’ll just be okay, which is not what Barca fans want. The Brazilian has walked into an unfortunate situation at the club and will become the beacon for all frustrations.
Alex Rea – Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad)
Has joined Real Sociedad in a bid to revive his career, but talent alone won’t be enough to prosper and, with a mid-table club, he’ll fail to make any sort of discernible impact.
Andy West – Nelson Samedo (Barcelona)
Signed from Benfica to solve Barca’s right-back problems but the Portuguese has shown little to date to suggest he’s capable of doing so, and may struggle to even get in the team.
Brendon Netto – Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)
The return of the La Masia product was painted as Barcelona going back to their roots but seems more like a desperate move. Deulofeu has already looked overwhelmed and out of his depth.