Real Betis 1-2 Barcelona: Alba's stoppage-time stunner clinches Champions League qualification
Barcelona were grateful to Jordi Alba for an outstanding late strike that saw off Real Betis and made sure of Champions League football.FotMob - last year
Jordi Alba waited until the 94th minute on Saturday to sensationally clinch a 2-1 win at Real Betis and Barcelona's place in next season's Champions League.
The Blaugrana needed all three points against fifth-placed Betis to be sure of a top-four finish and looked set to be frustrated after Marc Bartra cancelled out Ansu Fati's opener.
But Alba unleashed an outrageous volley into the roof of the Betis net with almost the final kick to achieve Barca's aim with three matches to spare.
The result was perhaps harsh on Betis, who passed up their own chances to complete a first LaLiga double over Barca, yet there was no arguing with the quality of the decisive goal.
Alba's strike was at odds with the two untidy efforts that went before it, with Fati and Bartra each requiring a fair chunk of fortune to finally get the better of the two goalkeepers.
Rui Silva, on early for the injured Claudio Bravo, had made an outstanding stop to touch Ronald Araujo's header onto the crossbar, while Betis were also denied by the frame of the goal when Guido Rodriguez's 20-yard drive bounced away off the foot of the post.
Juanmi twice shot too close to Neto in the second period, with the first of those chances a golden opportunity on the volley from Rodriguez's cross.
However, the Betis goal was coming under pressure even before Fati's first strike since his return from injury, as Silva blocked bravely from Ferran Torres but was wrongfooted by the Barca number 10's scuffed finish.
Bartra was one of three defenders close to Fati as that shot bobbled in, and his response was similarly scruffy, a header that hit his shoulder and evaded Neto.
Another header from Pezzella then beat Neto but also the post, with the winner instead coming at the other end through Alba's blistering volley from Dani Alves' deep delivery.
What does it mean? Job done... just
It would have taken a truly remarkable sequence of events for Barca to miss out on the top four with a draw here, but the three points make absolutely sure – an impressive achievement at the end of a testing campaign.
While this win was a great way to clinch it, Barca were ultimately rewarded for finding some level of consistency while Betis – their biggest threat outside the top four – slipped to a fourth straight defeat, scoring only once in that run.
Fati fit and firing
Another injury-ravaged campaign has limited Fati to just 12 appearances in all competitions this season, but he has still contributed six goals.
Although he will score many prettier than this one, his key role in the victory should come as a big boost to Xavi, who will now hope to keep the winger fit heading into 2022-23.
Both goalkeepers performed well and there were three goals eventually, but two slightly lucky finishes and a wonderstrike from Alba did not say a great deal for the creative capabilities of the sides.
With Juanmi's big chance ruled offside – no VAR check was required for a marginal call given he did not score – the two teams accumulated just 1.12 expected goals between them. That is the fourth-lowest total in a LaLiga match this season.
Key Opta Stats:
- Barcelona have played 14 away games without losing in LaLiga (W9 D5), equalling their best away record in the competition since April 2019.
- Fati scored one minute and 15 seconds after coming off the bench, the fourth-fastest goal scored by a substitute in LaLiga this season.
- Bartra has scored his 11th goal in his La Liga career (178 games), the first he has scored against his former team Barcelona in seven attempts.
- Alba has provided 10 assists in LaLiga 2021-22, at least twice as many as any other defender.
- The Barca full-back scored and assisted in the same LaLiga game for the first time since June 2020 (when he got a goal and assist against Mallorca).
The pressure is off Barca as they host Celta Vigo on Tuesday, but Betis can still make the Champions League and go to Valencia next.