Pep Guardiola’s last game of La Liga was sealed with a draw. But beyond the result, which might seem a bit dissapointing, there were a lot of things to be said about this entertaining match, which had rhythm despite the fact that both teams were not fighting for anything relevant.
First, Pep surprised once again as he included Ibi Afellay in the starting XI. He also used Adriano and Dani Alves (who had a good game, despite the red card) as left and right back, and Piqué and Mascherano as central defenders. In midfield, both Busi and Keita were present, both of them having a great game. Nearer the forwards, Xavi, and then Pedro, Messi and Ibi.
In first half, Barça had all the possession and Valdés was never threatened. The team had some good chances, one of them by Ibi, an excelent free kick from Xavi, another one by Messi, and a great shot from Adriano. The Betis keeper had a fantastic first half, despite Barça’s goal, which came from a corner kick (go figure!). Busi headed a great ball from Xavi, and after that Barça strengthened their dominance over the locals.
But with half time came a different match, and Pepe Mel’s men proved why they are considered a tough side. On the contrary of many teams, who tend to defend to lose against Barça with dignity, Betis came forward for most of the second half. Their top scorer, Rubén Castro, took advantage of two position mistakes from Barça’s defense, and beat Víctor Valdés twice. Before that, Dani Alves had been sent off, after a very rigorous first yellow card, and a deserved second one. That red card changed Barça’s defense, as it seemed we were down to 9 men rather than to 10.
After Beti’s second goal, Barça seemed to gain posession again, however Betis continued with their good off-ball work and fast counter attacks, despite losing one of their best men, Montero, due to an injury. Pep Guardiola made some changes, playing Montoya in Alves’ place, and Iniesta for Xavi, which helped the team to go forward. After a serie of chances, Barça finally found the equalizer on a header by Keita, on an assist from Montoya.
Barça showed a lot of character towards the end, although it wasn’t enough to win. But we had a very good team in front of us, one of those that makes you like La Liga more. Hopefully we will have more Pepes Mel and Bielsas next season, and fewer Mourinhos or Clementes.
So, Pep conducted his last La Liga game, and the team showed the same willingness to win as in his very first, against Numancia, four years ago. We lost that game, giving room to the renowed culè pessimism, unaware of the long, successful and joyful path that was in front of us. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new successful era.
And by the way, Víctor Valdés has officially won La Liga’s Zamora throphy. His fifth. A legend, just like Ramallets!
Image: AP [via Elmundodeportivo]