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FC Barcelona’s 42-match unbeaten streak in league games at the Camp Nou, covering the entire Ernesto Valverde era and more, came to an end on Sunday afternoon against a side they hadn’t lost to in any of their previous fourteen meetings.
Not even the return of Leo Messi was enough in a gripping encounter that saw Barça get back to within one goal on three separate occasions, but further responses from Betis and ultimately the final whistle meant that although they’ll stay top of the table, it’s by a much tighter margin that it was at the start of the weekend.
Caught on the counter
A lot had been said in the build-up about this being a clash between the possession kings of La Liga: But though it very quickly became apparent that Betis were never going to beat Barça at their own game, the more the home side pushed forwards, the greater the risk of getting exposed at the back.
Betis had already threatened a couple of times on the break before the Camp Nou was stunned when a counter attack off a corner ended up with Junior Firpo smartly putting the visitors into an unexpected lead.
Betis were buoyed by their surprise lead and starting to look worryingly comfortable in the Barça half.
Although Marc-Andre Ter Stegen came to the rescue to keep one sure-fire chance out, he would be beaten again before the break. Former Barça man Cristian Tello and his captain Joaquin were given far too much time and space to conjure up a goal that left Barça with a mountain to climb in the second half.
Back in contention
They’d give it a damned good try though, and looked to the Messi factor to get things back on track. Everything was going through the Argentinian as the chances piled up – although it was from the penalty spot that he finally found the net.
Not long after almost making it 3-0, Tello clumsily shoved Jordi Alba in his own area and instead it was 2-1.
With the game back on, the previously nervy atmosphere at the Camp Nou was back to the one we know and love.
Goal down again … and a man down
It only lasted a few minutes. There was another Argentinian goal to come, but not the kind the fans wanted. It wasn’t even a good strike from Giovani Lo Celso, but it went in all the same and Barça were back where they had started.
Ten minutes to go and the blaugrana got another one back. It was Messi’s through ball that created it, and substitutes Munir and Arturo Vidal did the rest. Goal for the Chilean and that was 3-2.
More was needed, but Barça would be doing it with one man less. A second yellow card for Ivan Rakitic and the Croatian was off.
And then Betis struck again. Sergio Canales slid onto the end of a Junior assist and for the first time since 2003, the number four appeared next to the visitors’ name on the stadium scoreboard.
It looked like curtains, but Barça never give up and their insistence paid off when a simply glorious moment of team football ended with Messi practically walking the ball over the line following more unselfish brilliance from Munir and Vidal.
There were moments of tension as the VAR people double-checked that there hadn’t been an offside. There hadn’t.
It had been a rollercoaster of a Sunday afternoon for the home fans, but there was real belief all around the ground that there was still time to salvage at least a point.
We have seen some miracle comebacks at the stadium over the years. Sadly, this Sunday afternoon was not going to be one of them.
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