In Saturday’s clash with Real Betis, Barcelona picked up its first victory in five LaLiga games, Lionel Messi making a big impact from the bench
After being left out of Ronald Koeman’s starting line-up for the first time, Lionel Messi scored twice and played a key part in another goal in Barcelona’s 5-2 LaLiga victory over 10-man Real Betis.
The absence of Messi, who has struggled for form this season, was put down to a lack of fitness by Barca assistant Alfred Schreuder as he started a league game on the bench for the first time since September 2019.
After Ousmane Dembele’s strike was cancelled out by Barca academy product Antonio Sanabria, either side of an Antoine Griezmann penalty miss, the mercurial forward was brought on at half-time with the game poised at 1-1.
Messi paved the way 194 seconds into the second half for Griezmann ‘s shot, then scored a penalty after Aissa Mandi was disqualified for handling the ball on the line and doubled his tally late to kill Betis after the strike of Loren Moron.
With a fifth goal late on Saturday, Pedri then capped a much-improved display for Koemen ‘s side as they secured a first league win in five.
After six games in the three-points-per-win era, Barca had made their worst start to a league season, but made a bright start against Betis, with Griezmann shooting wide from 12 yards and Fati curling a shot off goal.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen held out William Carvalho’s header, making his first league appearance of the season, before Ansu Fati and Griezmann wasted more presentable chances.
The breakthrough, however, came 22 minutes in, as Dembele took the ball into Alex Moreno and beat Claudio Bravo, who got a touch of the shot but was unable to hold it out.
After Mandi fouled Fati, Griezmann then hit the post and was denied by Bravo from the spot, and Betis was level when Sanabria led on the brink of half-time on Cristian Tello’s cross.
Messi was brought on at the break for Fati and had an immediate impact, smartly dummying the cross for Griezmann for Jordi Alba to slot into an unguarded net behind him.
Mandi was deemed to have blocked Dembele’s shot on the line with his arm after a lengthy VAR check and Messi had no trouble converting his fourth penalty of the season.
After Gerard Pique flicked the ball into his direction, Moron gave the visitors a lifeline by blasting a shot past Ter Stegen, but that proved nothing more than a consolation thanks to Messi’s powerful left-footed drive and Pedri’s close-range finish.