The Spanish Super Cup will feature the Spanish Clasico as Barcelona, by the skin of their teeth, got past Real Betis in a penalty shootout.
The Copa del Rey winners came back from being down twice to force the aforementioned shootout where Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen played the hero, stopping a pair of penalties in the process.
Barcelona went ahead in the score twice, once in extra time, only to see Betis come back. The second equalizer, in particular, was a thing of beauty with Loren Morón pulling off an audacious backheel with Ronald Araújo breathing down his neck. But, in the end, it wasn’t meant to be for the side managed by Manuel Pellegrini.
With that being said, let’s look at three talking points coming out from the match.
Lewandowski, Fati back on scoresheet for Barcelona
Barcelona were once again able to count on Robert Lewandowski after he missed the match against Atletico Madrid as he is serving a three-match ban. After not scoring in his previous three games, the Polish striker found the back of the net, finishing off a decent Barcelona counterattack.
Another positive sign was seeing Ansu Fati get on the score sheet. He entered as a late game substitute and was able to take advantage. In extra time, Fati volleyed a ball that was cleared following a free kick. He struck it very well and left Claudio Bravo with no chance, giving Barcelona a short-lived lead. He also converted his penalty during his shootout. He was active during his time on the pitch and the hope is he is able to use this as a stepping stone to get his season on track.
Ferran Torres continues to disappoint
On a night where Barcelona’s attackers had a good game both on a collective and individual level, Ferran Torres managed to be the outlier.
Torres was brought on in the second half and actively did more harm than good. He played a hand in Betis’ first goal as he lost the ball that led to the counter. Then, in his determination to make up for his mistake, he lunged to try to block the shot only to be deked by the Betis attacker and getting in the way of Jordi Alba before Betis equalized.
He was constantly getting caught offside and was again in what could have been Lewandowski’s brace during regular time.
He was given an opportunity to impress in Barcelona’s hard-fought win against Intercity in the Copa del Rey and failed to do so. He was sent off in the match against Atletico Madrid and offered very little once more against Betis. If the rest of the forwards perform like they did tonight, Torres is going to see his playing time significantly reduced.
The jury is still out on Xavi Hernandez as a manager
One of Barcelona’s troubles this season has been the inability to finish off a game and it was the case again against Real Betis. They played a wonderful first half and should have scored more than once. They failed to do so and left Betis back in the game. Were it not for Ter Stegen, they could have easily gone into the break trailing.
At this point, some of the blame has to fall on Xavi Hernandez.
The manager replaced both Dembélé and Frenkie de Jong early in the second half for the aforementioned Ferran Torres and Sergio Busquets. Perhaps not the smartest move to introduce the slow-paced Busquets against a quick side like Betis who were more than confident they could win and advance to the final.
Later on, he brought on Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso for Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba. This move backfired somewhat as Alonso played a hand in Betis’ second goal as he was twisted and turned in the build up. With Betis having their way on the left side of Barcelona’s defense, it begs the question as why he didn’t start with Alejandro Balde.
Xavi’s substitutions seem to hurt the team more than improve the club. It’s not only a matter of personnel but of timing as well. In his defense, the early hooks for Dembélé and De Jong were due to injury but it might have been a better idea to opt for Fati instead of Torres or even Memphis Depay.
His substitutions may have almost cost Barcelona, but the team was able to overcome them and now have the opportunity to win a title for the first time since he took over.
While no one expects a complete transformation against Real Madrid, Barcelona do need to be more clinical to take advantage of their good spells. It is perhaps the fact they don’t that compels the manager to make questionable decisions in order find a proper solution.
The same line-up he went for against Betis may be the same one we see in the final with only a few changes in defense. Expect Jules Koundé and Balde to start at fullback in place of Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba and Christensen to partner Araújo in the middle of defense.
The Spanish Super Cup final against Real Madrid will take place on Sunday. It will be the first time Barcelona have made the final since the 2020-21 season where they lost to Athletic Bilbao.