Real Betis 2-3 Barcelona: 5 Hits and Flops as Barca clinch thriller | La Liga 2019-20
Goals from Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets and Clement Lenglet were narrowly enough as Barcelona recovered from a goal down twice and battled through adversity to snatch all three points, winning 3-2 away against a spirited Real Betis display on Sunday.
The result means Barca avoid dropping yet more points in this season's La Liga title race, having relinquished their slender lead to rivals Real Madrid on Matchday 21.
During one of the day's earlier games, Real were 4-1 winners away against Osasuna - extending their 14-match unbeaten run in Spain's top-flight. So you could excuse the sharp intake of breath when Quique Setien's side went behind twice in an action-packed first-half against a bold, bullish Betis team unafraid of their visitors.
Lenglet was booked after five minutes, with VAR review awarding a penalty as the Frenchman handled compatriot Nabil Fekir's goal-bound effort. Canales converted the resulting spot-kick to break the deadlock, sending Marc-Andre ter Stegen the wrong way to make it 1-0. Their lead lasted all of four minutes, as Lionel Messi and de Jong combined for a well-worked equaliser to stun the raucous Benito Villamarín Stadium into silence.
Fekir - who ran the show in the first-half - took full advantage after Arturo Vidal's costly mistake near the halfway line to fire Betis back in-front after 26 minutes. Guido Rodriguez retrieved possession, they broke at speed before the 26-year-old evaded oncoming Barca defenders to pick his spot, slotting into the bottom corner.
Lenglet and fullback Nelson Semedo came close with promising chances, but were denied by some important last-ditch Betis defending, before Busquets netted his second league goal of the campaign in first-half stoppage-time. The hosts felt aggrieved after the controversial way in which they conceded, as players - particularly Lenglet - were getting handsy in the box, but the referee waved away their protests and the experienced Spaniard's goal stood.
Messi forced a handful of big saves from Joel Robles, while seeing a delicate chip flash narrowly wide of his far post as Barca increased their creative intensity to start the second-half. So perhaps it was no surprise to see Lenglet rise brilliantly over Rodriguez and guide Messi's free-kick into the far corner, leaving an off-balance Robles with no chance.
Both he and Fekir were given their marching orders for separate incidents in the final 15 minutes - the creative midfielder dismissed for a needless foul and consequent verbal abuse, before Lenglet himself could have no complaints after committing a clumsy foul on substitute Joaquin three minutes later.
Busquets dropped deep in the latter stages to combat Betis' waves of pressure, though Barca managed to hold firm for all three points. Without further ado, here's a look at five hits and flops from a Match of the Season contender...
#5 Flop: Nabil Fekir
Well, talk about a tale of two halves. Nabil Fekir was brilliant in the first-half: took his goal well, was playing with utmost confidence - delivering rabona crosses, darting past Barca players and causing general havoc in transition.
In the second-half, it was a completely different story. He and most of his teammates faded as Barca settled and were creating more chances while taking better care in possession too. It meant their opportunities were increasingly sparse and when they came, were no longer as clear-cut or promising as the first few which boosted their spirits in the first-half.
Frustrated by the situation, seeing his side's lead slip away on multiple occasions, he tried to latch onto a loose pass but instead was rightly penalised for committing an overzealous challenge on Lenglet. Referee José María Sánchez booked him and he could have no complaints, because even if you describe it as a 'soft foul' to give away, it was his own doing.
Rather than take that booking and trudge off back into position, he made a grave error. Arguing with the referee and verbally abusing him too, despite being warned against doing so as he reacted angrily to the initial booking.
Judging by his teammates' reaction in the immediate aftermath, they could sense the match was starting to get away from them and Fekir's dismissal would only serve to sap more of their energy. After all, he was one of their best performers on the evening. What made the situation worse was the fact this had all been self-inflicted.
Despite introducing Barca academy graduate Cristian Tello late on, Betis lacked the creative spark needed to snatch a point from this game - one they might have won - and Fekir will regret his petulance, which was the exclamation point on how such a promising evening ended in him being sent off as Betis succumbed to their ninth league defeat of the season.