21 min Bartra makes another vital interception, this time from Messi’s return pass towards Suarez.
GOAT! Betis 0-1 Barcelona (Messi 18)
Messi slams the free-kick into the top corner! It was a brilliant goal, not least because he hit it to the keeper’s side. But it was curled with such speed and accuracy that Lopez couldn’t get to it.
16 min Arthur is fouled 22 yards from goal by Canales, and Guardado is booked for dissent.
14 min “At the Under-21 European Championship in 2013 I spent one half sitting just above Tello’s flank when Spain beat Russia with something like 97% possession, scoring the game’s only goal through a header from a free kick,” says Phil Podolsky. “Can report that he was a right speedster but not particularly clever or tricky on the ball. Thiago Alcantara and Isco looked like superstars though, and De Gea was bored out of his skull.”
13 min: Great chance for Betis! Joaquin on the right drove a diagonal cross beyond the far post to Guardado, who cushioned a volley back towards Jese in the six-yard box. He stretched but could not make proper contact and ter Stegen was able to save.
12 min Tello cuts infield from the left and shoots low from 20 yards. He doesn’t connect properly, though, and it’s an easy save for ter Stegen. At the other end, Suarez flicks a dangerous pass towards Messi, and Bartra dives towards his own goal to make an important headed interception.
10 min Barcelona have been pretty sloppy in possession so far. It looks, by the way, like they are playing a narrow 4-4-2 rather than a diamond, with Vidal on the left and Rakitic on the right. Bit weird.
9 min Every time I look at the screen, I half expect to see Denilson doing a never-ending stepover.
7 min Messi slides a fine pass down the inside-left channel for Jordi Alba, who bursts into the area before Mandi (I think) gets back to concede a corner.
5 min Lo Celso clips a delicious pass over the defence for Tello, who controls it on the run and is about to line up a shot when Sergi Roberto stretches to make a vital recovery challenge.
4 min “Speaking of Tello, Munir was of the same vintage and was sent out to learn his trade elsewhere for a good while – he came back, unlike Tello, but although older, didn’t, on the couple of times he seems to have been granted some minutes on the pitch, look distinctly better,” says Charles Antaki. “The search for Luis Suarez’ replacement goes on. It’s not Gareth Bale’s natural position, but he will be free soon, probably.”
Could Ashley Young’s Indian summer take another magical twist?
3 min It’s been a strong start from Betis, with most of the early business occurring in Barcelona’s half.
1 min Busquets’ return pass to ter Stegen goes straight out for a corner. A return pass to the keeper, FHS. The corner comes to nothing.
1 min Betis kick off from left to right. They’re in green and white stripes. Barcelona are in red and blue.
There’s a wonderful atmosphere at the Benito Villamarin. The captains Joaquin and Lionel Messi, combined age 68, exchange pleasantries in the centre circle.
“Happy St. Patrick’s Day Rob!” hics Peter Oh. “Betis will be more than adequately covered by their green home stripes, but Barca’s players will likely run afoul of today’s apparel requirements unless they’re wearing green boots. Will the blaugrana feel the pinch? Also, I recognise a couple of ex-Barça names in the Betis starting XI in Bartra and Tello.”
Ah, Cristian Tello. I thought he’d be a superstar.
Real Betis (3-4-2-1) Pau Lopez; Mandi, Bartra, Sidnei; Joaquin, Carvalho, Guardado, Tello; Lo Celso, Canales; Jese.
Substitutes: Robles, Emerson, Diego Lainez, Javi Garcia, Kaptoum, Loren, Sergio Leon.
Barcelona (4-4-2) ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur, Vidal; Messi, Suarez.
Substitutes: Cillessen, Semedo, Umtiti, Alena, Coutinho, Malcom, Boateng.
Pop quiz, hotshot. What last occurred on Wednesday 7 May 2008, a whopping 3966 days ago? Yes, ha ha, very good, you should try stand-up. The actual answer, which pertains to tonight’s La Liga coverage, is that it’s the last time a team completed the league double over Barcelona.
Real Madrid plugged Frank Rijkaard’s side 4-1 that night, and our Sid went to town on the patheticness of the away team’s performance. A lot has changed since then. That match was pre-Pep, pre-MSN, even pre-Dmytro Chygrynskiy. It’s a staggering statistic, really – almost 11 years without being beaten home and away by the same team in the same season. And it shows the scale of what Real Betis could achieve tonight, having already won 4-3 at the Nou Camp in November.
Barcelona are unbeaten in La Liga since then, however, and are in mildly terrifying form. They are cantering towards another title, which will be their eighth in 11 seasons. They’ve come a long way in the last 3966 days.
Kick off is at 8.45pm in Seville, 7.45pm in Britain.