Barcelona picked up three massive points in the title race thanks to an impressive 2-1 win away to Real Betis on Wednesday at the Benito Villamarín. Barça played a complete game and scored the goals in the second half to leave one of the toughest grounds in Spain with a big victory to go eight points clear at the top of the table.
Here are five winners and one loser from the action in Seville.
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.
Sergio Busquets: The captain will never be the consistent, game-to-game dominant presence he was during the 2010s, but every now and then he reminds the world of just how damn good he is. Xavi Hernández started Busi to try and control the chaos that these matches usually turn into, and Sergio did just that with great poise, excellent passing and some of the best defending we’ve seen him do in a long time. He had two crucial headed clearances in the final minutes and a few fantastic passes in the final third.
Alejandro Balde: The young left-back is separating himself from the other two options in the position and had a very complete performance in this one. Betis winger Luiz Henrique was unplayable in the Super Cup meeting between these teams in Saudi Arabia but had a very tough time getting by Balde, who is quickly developing into a good defender. He also provided the assist for the crucial opening goal, and is improving his final product with each game.
Frenkie de Jong: No player benefited more from Xavi’s switch to a four-midfielder system than the Dutchman, who is finally allowed to be himself and do the things he’s most comfortable with and made him such a fascinating prospect at Ajax. He is at his very best when he almost goes unnoticed on the pitch and just keeps the machine moving with good passes, runs into space to receive the ball from teammates and great intelligence. The first goal doesn’t happen without his fast decision to take a free-kick that caught the Betis defense off guard. Just all-around very good from Frenkie.
Andreas Christensen: I’ve become a massive fan of the Dane since he joined Barça. He is such a calming presence and never gets himself in trouble, and knows what to do with the ball as well. His positioning was pristine in this game and his anticipation killed several promising counter-attacks from Betis. What a player.
Raphinha: This might be a controversial choice, but the Brazilian deserves a vote of confidence after his performance tonight. He is still nowhere near the player he was at Leeds and still had some head-scratching moments, but he looked more comfortable and aggressive tonight. I don’t mind wingers making mistakes when they’re taking on defenders and trying to create plays, but Raphinha is a tough watch when he’s just sending aimless crosses into nowhere. There was less of that and more decisiveness tonight, and while the goal was easy he still needed to be alert at the far post and stay onside. He can build on what we saw in this one, and slowly become the player he should be.
The gold kit: There’s no analysis on this one. I just adore the gold kit and Barça should wear it more. That’s it.
Nabil Fekir: The Frenchman is one of my favorite players to watch, so this is a personal one for me. It’s been a tough season for Fekir with injuries and poor performances, and he was quite simply not good enough tonight. He looks slow, is missing easy passes and seems to have lost one of his best traits: his ability to press and win the ball in dangerous areas. Fekir used to make Busquets’ life hell in previous meetings, but he was a no-show in this one which is quite sad.