Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis: Talking points as Antoine Griezmann impact heralds new dawn

Andy West 01:36 26/08/2019
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Barcelona dispelled the clouds that had been gathering amid a worrying injury list by delivering a vibrant and dynamic display to thrash Real Betis 5-2 at the Camp Nou on Sunday night.

Antoine Griezmann was the spark, scoring the first two goals, but there was also a refreshing vitality about the overall team performance.

Plenty more players did enough to give coach Ernesto Valverde food for thought as he looks ahead to the rest of the season, but Griezmann was the undoubted star and he kicks off our post-game talking points.

GRIEZMANN PROVES A POINT

Barca’s attacking options were severely depleted with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele all ruled out through injury, and manager Ernesto Valverde responded by selecting Carles Perez on the right wing, Rafinha on the left and Antoine Griezmann through the middle.

After his protracted and costly summer transfer from Atletico Madrid, this was the perfect stage for Griezmann to show he is capable of carrying the attack on such a big stage, and the Frenchman lived up to those lofty expectations with a near-perfect performance.

After netting his first competitive goal in Blaugrana colours by volleying home Sergi Roberto’s cross to equalise just before the break, Griezmann then sent his team ahead with a brilliant effort early into the second half, picking up a loose ball on the edge of the box and curling an unstoppable shot into the bottom left corner.

More than his goals, though, Griezmann also contributed in open play, regularly dropping deep to play a full role in constructing his team’s attacking play with sharp and classy touches. And after this display, which was effusively received by the Camp Nou crowd, there can be no doubt he is ready to become a key perfomer for the reigning champions.

A NEW ERA DAWNING?

There was a very fresh look to the Barca forward line, with the big-name injury absentees meaning that Perez and Rafinha had the chance to support Griezmann in attack while Frenkie de Jong and Sergi Roberto were selected in midfield as Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Arthur were all consigned to the bench.

The results were positive and encouraging, with Valverde’s men displaying a vivacity and verve which has been conspicuous by its absence in recent months. Rafinha and Perez were sharp and incisive from the wings, De Jong offered dynamic support to Sergio Busquets, and Sergi Roberto frequently drove forward to find space between Betis’ midfield and defence.

The start of the second half was particularly impressive as Griezmann inspired a flurry of three goals in 15 minutes to take the game beyond Betis, and although Messi will return to the starting line-up in due course the energy and speed of play demonstrated in this comeback victory could provide Valverde with an interesting template for the future evolution of his team. The question for the coach, indeed, is how such intensity can be maintained when the big names return.

BETIS IN AN IDENTITY CRISIS

Betis were the last visiting team to win a league game at the Camp Nou after they earned a thrilling 4-3 victory last November, but it’s tough to compare the two games – not just because of Barca’s absentees – because the Andalusian team are a very different proposition this campaign.

Whereas former boss Quique Setien is a devout proponent of passing football, new boss Rubi is a far more pragmatic manager and set out his team in a 4-4-2 formation with the intention to sit deep and sting the hosts on the break. That’s not to say they were negative, and Nabil Fekir’s opener after 15 minutes was just one of several dangerous attacks with Sergio Canales always a threat as he broke forward from midfield.

But Betis were unable to command any kind of control over the game in the way they consistently did last season, and the sloppy defending which contributed to Barca’s blitz of goals either side of the break suggested they are a long way from finding the defensive solidity which eluded them last season and is necessary for a counter-attacking team.

Rubi has a job on his hands to stave off a tough, long campaign.

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