Barcelona are finally off the mark in La Liga. After the first game which resulted in a bitter 1-0 defeat at the hands of Athletic Bilbao, it felt like they weren’t going to recover any time soon. The next game started in a similar fashion.
Not even half an hour after the referee’s first whistle Barcelona found themselves behind.
Real Betis celebrated Nabil Fekir’s brilliant finish as Marc-Andre ter Stegen was left grabbing the air while the ball flew past him into the net.
The Camp Nou went silent for a couple of seconds and then erupted in some whistles. Barcelona were down once again and that eerie feeling and fear could be felt in the air. It was happening again. Like a trip to San Mames the week before wasn’t enough of a shock for the new campaign and now it was happening at home as well.
Maybe the Catalan giant was kissing the floor after that initial knockdown but they were far from being out of the game. And then they came back up before the referee could count to ten. Once that happened, something just clicked.
The equaliser arrived just before half-time and from that moment on, there was no stopping the Blaugrana. Soon the second one followed, then the third, then the fourth and finally the fifth. Real Betis got one back after a sublime finish from Moron but they didn’t care. The night was theirs for the taking and take it they did.
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But despite Antoine Griezmann bagging a brace and the young Ansu Fati making his senior debut, becoming the second-youngest La Masia graduate ever to do so at the age of 16, two players were Barcelona’s unsung heroes: Rafinha Alcantara and Carles Perez.
Barcelona fans are not really used to seeing either of those two playing at all, let alone playing together and dominating the opposition. Rafinha mostly due to his injuries while Perez is also a new face in the team from La Masia and he’s not officially a first-teamer just yet. But that’s exactly what happened.
Rafinha started the game on the left flank while Perez was on the other side. In some ways they are similar players: both have enough pace to beat their opposition, they are quite technical and good with the ball and with a keen eye for goal, especially from range.
But despite that, they had very different roles on the night: Rafinha was cutting inside and interchanging positions with both Frenkie de Jong and Jordi Alba while Perez was mostly staying wide, making runs in behind the defence and generally being a nuisance.
Interestingly enough, they also swapped places on occasions so the Brazilian would go to the right and the youngster would occupy the left. This dynamic worked extremely well and it helped Barcelona get those five goals in the first place.
Perez even netted one himself after he beautifully controlled the ball to get away from his marker and then simply passed it into the net from decent range, around the edge of the box.
With all of that being said, there is definitely a moral to be extracted from this story if you’re Ernesto Valverde. If he were to take away just a single thing from that Real Betis game and apply it to the upcoming Osasuna clash then that would definitely be that this tandem absolutely has to start the next game.
He can tinker with the rest of the squad as much as he wants but these two have to be in the lineup how ever he decides to proceed. And taking a look at the Catalans’ personnel and the “bodies” they have in the stands rather than in the squad, this outcome is quite likely.
Lionel Messi most likely won’t be fit to participate and the same goes for Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez. So in a way, it does seem that Valverde won’t have much of a choice on the matter but nothing is for certain until the lineups are officially out.
Let’s hope, for Barcelona’s sake, that they include both Rafinha and Perez.