Barcelona shrugged off the absence of star man Lionel Messi and still managed to thump Real Betis 5-2 at Camp Nou on Sunday evening. Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele were also sidelined, but a makeshift front three of Antoine Griezmann, Rafinha and Carles Perez still ripped Betis apart. It was a huge victory for such an injury-ravaged team and it should fill Barca fans with optimism ahead of a long campaign.
In May, Ernesto Valverde’s men looked destined to win the treble for the third time in the club’s illustrious history. They pulled it off during the first season of Pep Guardiola’s managerial reign when Xavi and Andres Iniesta were pulling the strings behind Messi, Thierry Henry, and Samuel Eto’o. They managed it again under Luis Enrique in 2014/15, when Messi, Suarez, and Neymar formed a superb attacking triumvirate.
They were expected to repeat the feat last season, with the league title sewn up, a 3-0 aggregate lead over Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals and a comfortable Copa del Rey final clash against Valencia to look forward to. The best betting sites will show you what to look out for, check a Bovada review to understand everything you need because they had Barca as clear favourites to go on and complete another triple crown. But the wheels came off in spectacular fashion, as they lost 4-0 at Anfield and slumped to a shock defeat at the hands of Valencia.
Could this be the season in which they finally secure another famous treble? Their curtain-raiser did not offer much encouragement, as they lost 1-0 away at Athletic Bilbao. Messi was conspicuous by his absence and Barca looked bereft of invention upfront, despite boasting a front three of Griezmann, Suarez, and Dembele that cost around €300 million to assemble.
Valverde was facing a full-blown injury crisis ahead of Betis’ visit, after Suarez and Dembele both limped off against Bilbao. Messi did not recover from a calf injury in time for the match, and the Barcelona manager must have feared the worst when he was forced to play Perez and Rafinha either side of the new signing Griezmann. The former is a youth academy graduate with just two La Liga appearances to his name, while the latter has been a fringe player for the club and only made five appearances last season.
Yet Barcelona delivered a scintillating display of attacking football and Griezmann was the catalyst. He put an underwhelming debut behind him and produced a masterclass in centre-forward play, banging in two delightful goals and laying on a sumptuous assist. Barca were trailing 1-0 when he latched onto Sergi Roberto’s dinked through ball and slammed a sliding volley past Martin Fernandez. He then handed his team the lead with a curled effort from the edge of the area in the second half.
Perez showed his potential with a fine finish to make it 3-1 and then Jordi Alba rolled in a fourth. Barca’s fifth was the pick of the bunch, as Griezmann was at full stretch to slide the ball across the box for substitute Arturo Vidal to slam it home. Betis grabbed a late consolation, but the game was put to bed by then. To put five goals past a strong Betis side without Messi, Suarez or Dembele is hugely encouraging. Suarez might fear for his place in the team after watching Griezmann’s performance, as the Frenchman was sharp, alert and deadly in front of goal. Perez might also give Dembele a run for his money at this rate.
It is also encouraging to see Valverde persist with a younger midfield, as Sergi Roberto looked lively alongside new arrival Frenkie De Jong, who already has Barca ticking with his metronomic passing. Barca were overrun in midfield during that meltdown at Anfield last season, and Valverde must surely realise he cannot play Sergio Busquets, Vidal and Ivan Rakitic together now. There is room for one of them, but not all three.
Busquets made a strong case for a regular starting berth at Camp Nou on Sunday. He absolutely bossed the midfield, although his poor pass did allow Betis to score their opener. If Busquets can cut out the mistakes, he can lead Barcelona to glory alongside the fresh legs of de Jong this season. Messi, Griezmann and Suarez will be a match for any team in Europe, so there is every reason to think that Barcelona can dominate the domestic game and seize that elusive Champions League title.