Barcelona took another step towards a first LaLiga title since 2019 as they thumped 10-man Real Betis 4-0 at Spotify Camp Nou on Saturday.
Andreas Christensen headed Barca into a 14th-minute lead before Betis were reduced to 10 men just after the half hour mark when Edgar Gonzalez was sent off for two bookings.
Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha made it 3-0 before the break, with an own goal from Guido Rodriguez completing the scoring inside the final 10 minutes.
Barca then handed a debut to 15-year-old Lamine Yamal for the final stretch of the match as they restored their 11-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of the table with just six games to go.
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1. Barca recover from Rayo setback in style
Barca had lost for just the third time in LaLiga this season as they were comfortably beaten by Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday. Real Madrid’s win over Almeria on Saturday then moved them within eight points of Xavi Hernandez’s side, slightly lifting the pressure on them to get a result against Betis.
They responded. Boosted by the return of Andreas Christensen in defence — and Ousmane Dembele on the bench — Barca took the game to Betis from the off and deservedly led when the Danish centre-back headed in Raphinha’s cross. Any hopes Betis had of staying in the game disappeared in the 33rd minute. Substitute Edgar Gonzalez, who had replaced the injured Luiz Felipe, was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Pedri.
With the numerical advantage, Barca raced clear. Lewandowski flicked home his 19th league goal of the season from a Jules Kounde cross to put two goals between him and Karim Benzema, whose hat-trick earlier in the day took him to 17 — the last time the league’s top scorer didn’t hit 25 by season’s end was 2001-02.
Raphinha, after a brilliant Sergio Busquets through ball, then killed the game before halftime.
2. Lamine Yamal, 15, makes Barcelona history
The second half was an exercise of attack against defence as Barca eased to their 24th clean sheet of the season. Lewandowski could have added to the home side’s tally, but the most interesting moments came from the bench.
After Betis winger Joaquin, 41, had come on for his final Camp Nou appearance — he was giving a rousing reception by the crowd of 88,000 in the rain — it was time for Barca to hand a debut to Lamine Yamal. At 15, he becomes Barca’s youngest ever to debut in LaLiga and fifth youngest to play in the top flight (Luka Romero, who made his debut for Mallorca in 2020, is still the youngest debutant).
It was almost a dream debut for Yamal, too, who saw a good chance well-saved by Rui Silva, while it was a sad ending for Joaquin, who exited the match with a knee injury.
It was another substitute, though, who created Barca’s fourth goal. Ansu Fati, still only 20, saw his attempt turned into the net by Betis midfielder Guido Rodriguez.
3. Betis self-destruct in Champions League race
The three points edge Barca closer to the league title, but Betis’ Champions League hopes have been quashed this week. If they had beaten Real Sociedad at home in midweek, they would have been within three points of the top four. As it stands, following that draw with La Real and this loss to Barca, they are now nine points adrift.
A trip to Camp Nou was never likely to yield three points but Manuel Pellegrini’s side did not help themselves. From losing to Luiz Felipe to injury to seeing Edgar sent off and Guido scoring an own-goal to Joaquin hobbling off, it was a night when almost everything that could go wrong did.
Having announced earlier this month he’ll hang up his boots at season’s end, Betis will hope that Joaquin’s injury will not signal an early retirement and that he’ll get the chance to say goodbye on the pitch.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona).
At his best in games that his side control. Produced several brilliant passes through the lines, including one for Raphinha’s goal.
BEST: Raphinha (Barcelona).
Took his goal really well and delivered a really good cross for the opener, nodded in by Christensen.
BEST: Pedri (Barcelona).
Xavi’s side are just better when Pedri plays. Making just his second start since recovering from injury, almost everything went through him.
WORST: Edgar Gonzalez (Real Betis).
Lasted just 20 minutes on the pitch after coming on in the first half. His first booking may have been harsh, but the challenge for the second was stupid when already on a caution.
WORST: Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis).
Lost the midfield battle against Barca’s four in the middle and later put through his own net.
WORST: Martin Montoya (Real Betis).
The former Barca right-back was roasted for pace a couple of times by Alejandro Balde on a tough return to his former home.
Highlights and notable moments
Whatever you were doing at age 15, it certainly wasn’t getting the Camp Nou crowd on its feet.
15-YEAR-OLD LAMINE YAMAL NEARLY SCORES JUST MINUTES AFTER MAKING HIS BARCA DEBUT 😮😮😮 pic.twitter.com/5SiOUvC1wH
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 29, 2023
After the match: What the managers, players said
Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez on Lamine Yamal’s debut at age 15: “I told him to try things and he did. At 15 years old, imagine it… He is special. He could have scored, he played with confidence. He showed what he is about. He has no fear. He has talent. Some of his passes were really good.
Xavi, on if Yamal’s debut was similar to Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati: “Yes, he’s a similar player because he has that innate talent in the final third which is difficult to find. He doesn’t seem like a 15-year-old, he’s more mature. He’s ready and he is training well. He showed that in the 10 minutes he was on when he played with the confidence we want. He can mark an era at this club.”
Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini, on their Champions League hopes: “We are not in the form to try and pull that off at the moment. We have to try and end the season well. Unfortunately we are in a slump at the moment after being consistent for two and a half years.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Lamine Yamal becomes the fifth player aged 15 years or younger to play in the history of Spain’s top division.
– This is Barcelona’s 5th LaLiga win by at least four goals difference, the second most of any team in the top five European leagues (only Bayern Munich has more with six wins).
– Raphinha is the 15th different player (first on Barcelona) on a club from the top five European leagues with 10+ assists and 10+ goals this season across all competitions.
– With Edgar Gonzalez’s second yellow card, Betis now lead LaLiga with the most players sent off this season (13). Second are Elche and Sevilla, both with 12.
– This is Barcelona’s 24th shutout of the season in LaLiga, tying the team’s single-season record of 24 shutouts in 1986-87.
Barcelona: Another home game at the Camp Nou vs. Osasuna on Tuesday (stream live on ESPN+ at 2:30 p.m. ET).
Real Betis: Back on the road at Athletic Club next Thursday (stream live on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET).