The Argentine started as a substitute because Koeman decided to give him rest. And he ended up being the figure, with two goals – one from a penalty and another from a play – for the 5-2 over Betis at the Camp Nou.
In the end, everyone smiled. Lionel Messi smiled, who after waiting 45 minutes in the Camp Nou stalls, shouted two goals and scared away some ghosts that were hovering around the Catalan coliseum. Ronald Koeman smiled, although he is not very fond of doing it, because the risky move of sending his soccer player-insignia to the bank went well and his team ended up beating Betis 5 to 2 for the ninth date of the Spanish League. And Lionel Scaloni also smiled, because his captain will arrive in Buenos Aires sharp and with at least a little rest for the double round of Qualifying against Paraguay in Bombonera and against Peru in Lima. Round business for everyone.
The week had found Leo in a little stormy eye, questioned for his alleged inactivity in a 2-1 win over Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday in the Champions League. “I see him feeling good and strong, and his attitude is very good. If you want to create controversy, it is your problem, I do not enter “, Koeman had defended in the press conference on Friday, without missing the opportunity to fight those who consulted him.
However, 24 hours later the coach chose to rest the Rosario for the first time in the season. First, there was talk of a discomfort in one of the captain’s ankles, who did not go out to warm up on the Camp Nou pitch with his teammates, as did the rest of the substitutes.
But Alfred Schreuder, one of Koeman’s assistants, immediately cleared up the scores. “We are not talking about an injury, it is simply that he is not fresh. And if someone is not fresh, they come off the bench. There are already many accumulated matches ”, he explained.
Good old Schreuder was right about something. Since the start of the season, which for Barça was on Sunday September 27, the Catalan team had played nine games in 38 days (six in the League and three in the Champions League) and Messi had started all of them and had played all the minutes. To this were added the matches with the National Team against Ecuador in Buenos Aires and Bolivia in La Paz for the first double date of the Qualifiers, in which he was also on the field for 90 minutes.
For this reason, it was not so illogical to see him lounging in the stalls at the Camp Nou, with his face covered with a light blue chinstrap, warm as for an expedition to the Antarctic Polar Circle and carefully following the work of his teammates, who responded quite well despite the absence of the player-franchise, although they encountered some difficulties of those that are becoming common currency for Koeman’s team.
Barcelona dominated the first half at will, took advantage with a goal from Ousmane Dembélé in the 22nd minute, generated several chances to extend its advantage and even had a penalty, which Antoine Griezmann executed badly and covered the Chilean Claudio Bravo. In added time, poor coverage from the local defense allowed Paraguayan Antonio Sanabria, trained at the Masía, to strike for Betis, who had Guido Rodríguez in the midfield.
As necessity dictates, it did not matter if Messi was fresh as a lettuce or not so much: Koeman reached out to him for the second half. And the effect was almost immediate. At 3 minutes and after a center from the left of Jordi Alba, the Rosario went to look for the ball in the area paired by Marc Bartra, but let it run with a little jump that puzzled his rivals and allowed Griezmann, without opposition, push the net.
It wasn’t all that Leo had to offer in those 45 minutes. At 12 minutes, a hand from Aissa Mandi on the sentence line gave rise to a three-minute conciliation between the referee and those responsible for the video assistance system that resulted in the sanction of the penalty and the expulsion of the Algerian defender. With much less doubts than the judge, Messi, with a high shot, sealed the 3-1.
And at 36 minutes, after Loren’s discount for the Verdiblancos, he converted Barça’s fourth after an assist from Sergi Roberto. Although it was his sixth goal of the season, it was the first that he did not arrive from 12 steps: before this Saturday, he had scored a penalty against Villarreal for the League, against Ferencvaros and Juventus for the Champions League and against Ecuador for the Qualifiers. Already on the hour, the youthful Pedri gave form to 5 to 2 for the team of the smiling Koeman.