Robert Lewandowski is back for Barcelona, and he wouldn't have it any other way, scoring the decisive goal as the Blaugrana top Real Betis 2-1 go eight points clear atop the La Liga table.
The first 45 minutes were quiet, with neither side showing any desire to go forward and score goals. That changed shortly after halftime, and the game truly picked up with a half-hour to go.
Raphinha, who had struggled to keep the ball all match, cropped up for the opening goal, meeting Alex Balde's cross to put Barcelona in front on 65 minutes. Then Lewandowski, whose importance to the Barcelona attack was evident during his three-match suspension, provided a striker's finish on the second to put the game away.
The end of the match was a bit awkward after Jules Kounde put the ball in his own net to give Real Betis hope, but the hosts were poor throughout the match, providing little threat to the attacking third, and they were unable to take advantage of the late misstep by Barcelona.
The Sporting News will be following the match live and providing score updates, commentary and highlights as they happen.
65th min — BAR — Raphinha
80th min — BAR — Robert Lewandowski
85th min — BET — Jules Kounde (OG)
90+5' — BET — William Carvalho (straight red)
Real Betis (4-2-3-1, right to left): 13. R. Silva (GK) — 24. Ruibal (Sabaly, 77'), 16. Pezzella, 19. Felipe, 20. Abner — 14. Carvalho (Guardado, 62'), 5. G. Rodriguez — 11. Henrique (Rodri, 77'), 10. Canales, 8. Fekir (Juanmi, 63') — 9. Iglesias (W. Jose, 77').
Barcelona (4-4-2, right to left): 1. ter Stegen (GK) — 23. Kounde, 4. R. Araujo, 15. Christensen, 28. Balde — 6. Gavi (F. Torres, 84'), 5. Busquets, 21. de Jong, 8. Pedri (Kessie, 90') — 22. Raphinha (Fati, 81'), 9. Lewandowski.
Well, Barcelona come away with the three points at the end, deservingly, but it was more awkward at the end than needed after the Jules Kounde own-goal.
More importantly, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski both pick out goals for Barcelona, seeing them eight points clear atop the La Liga table. Alex Balde was excellent, picking out the assist on the opening goal and looking bright throughout the match, while Ronald Araujo's flicked header was the assist on the second.
A weird one at the end, but it's comprehensive on the whole as Barcelona remain resolute as they have all league season despite all else going on in other competitions and behind the scenes.
Apparently William Carvalho was sent off after the final whistle, which will infuriate his manager, triggering a suspension for no reason. Real Betis players and supporters were up in arms about the officiating all match, but in truth, they had little reason to be. The officiating was fine, but the performance was subpar, and that should have been the focus.
🟥WILLIAM CARVALHO, EXPULSADO tras el pitido final por protestar al árbitro. pic.twitter.com/V4vxesdOcd — El Chiringuito TV (@elchiringuitotv) February 1, 2023
90+4 min: Time is ticking down and a ball over the top is wasted by Juanmi, that feels like it could potentially be the last chance for Real Betis, in a game they don't quite deserve to be in at the end.
90+1 min: With four minutes of added time on at the end of regulation, Real Betis break but the flag is up for offside. Manuel Pellegrini is applauding his team forward as they feel there's a chance of rescuing a point here. Franck Kessie is on for Pedri.
88th min: Chance, Real Betis! Barcelona are suddenly hanging on by their fingertips! Sergio Canales flicks a good ball in front of net, and Sergio Busquets has to clear off the doorstep with his head! The home fans are up in full song!
85th min: GOAL! REAL BETIS! OH NO, it's an AWFUL own-goal from Jules Kounde! He's literally chested the ball into his own net! A cross from substitute Youssouf Sabaly evades the diving headed clearance of Andreas Christensen, and falls to Jules Kounde at the far post with no attackers in his area. He bungles it completely, chesting the ball down poorly and into his own net past a helpless Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Put that one on the lowlights reel!
Buckle up for an unexpectedly exciting final five minutes!
Watch in Canada:
Real Betis is on the board in the 85th minute after a Barçelona own goal!#BetisBarça pic.twitter.com/AxSVANqR7D — TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 1, 2023
83rd min: Ansu Fati may have just taken a goal off Robert Lewandowski, but they can have a laugh about it up 2-0 late. The young winger, just on the field, flicks a header wide of the far post, leaping to meet a cross just in front of his teammate who was so free, he probably could have had a steak dinner before depositing the ball into the back of the net.
Gavi is withdrawn after the shot goes wide, replaced by Ferran Torres.
80th min: GOAL! BARCELONA! Robert Lewandowski is back, and he wraps it up! The Polish striker's 23rd of the season across all competitions, and 14th in the league, as he gives Barcelona all three points.
It's a very well taken goal, as Ronald Araujo gets his head to a corner and flicks it right to the feet of Lewandowski at the penalty spot. The Barcelona striker does the rest, touching onto his right past a defender and ripping his shot through the small space. A poacher's goal, but we all know Lewandowski is much more than that.
Raphinha is withdrawn after the goal, replaced by Ansu Fati, a move which we thought about 10 minutes ago would have a much different narrative!
Watch in the USA:
Lewandowski doubles Barcelona's lead 📈 pic.twitter.com/2xOFbPjXB5 — ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 1, 2023
Watch in the UK:
Robert Lewandowski is back in the team and back in the goals! 🙌
Joy for Barcelona as they keep their grip on LaLiga's top spot 👏 pic.twitter.com/3E10yaoIrZ — Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) February 1, 2023
Watch in Canada:
Watch in Australia:
Robert Lewan𝐆𝐎𝐀𝐋ski scores goals 😤
The Barcelona man bags his 14th goal in #LaLiga this season.
Watch LIVE | https://t.co/NrKhVuLox5#OptusSport pic.twitter.com/IxojuzdAmU — Optus Sport (@OptusSport) February 1, 2023
77th min: Another two changes for Real Betis, including the withdrawal of Borja Iglesias, who had almost nothing to do up front tonight. He's replaced by Willian Jose, while Youssouf Sabaly comes on to replace Aitor Ruibal as their platoon at right-back continues. Finally, Rodri replaces Luiz Henrique, who was also silent for much of this game.
69th min: Chance, Real Betis! The hosts are now building into the match, as a great diagonal ball finds a streaking Abner at the top corner of the penalty area. He cuts it well to Borja Iglesias, but the Real Betis striker falls over before producing a shot. It's a great chance gone begging, as they got over the top of a hectic Barcelona back line!
Luiz Felipe then picks up a yellow card for kicking Pedri in the back of the legs. No intent, but very late to completing a tackle as Pedri produced a brilliant turn.
67th min: Real Betis, following the actions of their home fans, are beginning to lose the plot. Aitor Ruibal is now shown the yellow card while going ballistic in midfield about a refereeing decision. They have to keep their heads.
65th min: GOAL! BARCELONA!Well, how about that! Just as he looked to be having a nightmare performance, Raphinha gets the opening goal! All the hard work was done by Alex Balde down the left of the penalty area, and he cut a cross along the face of goal for Raphinha at the far post making the run. The Brazilian provides the tap-in and the visitors lead.
A yellow card is shown to Andres Guardado in the aftermath of the goal for dissent, as the hosts are upset about a quick restart by Barcelona in the build-up to the goal.
Watch in the USA:
Raphinha taps it in from close range! pic.twitter.com/AomIODRcJ2 — ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 1, 2023
Watch in the UK:
Barcelona are in front and on course for another BIG win! 🔵🔴
There was no disallowing Raphinha's goal this time 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ZWSJGb7ExP — Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) February 1, 2023
Watch in Canada:
Raphinha strikes for Barçelona in the 65th minute!#BetisBarça pic.twitter.com/AWOWX2dk2F — TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 1, 2023
Watch in Australia:
Barcelona catch Real Betis sleeping 😴
Frenkie De Jong with some quick thinking and Raphinha finishes off a delicious cross by Alejandro Balde.
Watch LIVE | https://t.co/NrKhVuLox5#LaLiga #OptusSport pic.twitter.com/Al4v36K1N4 — Optus Sport (@OptusSport) February 1, 2023
62nd min: The first changes come from Manuel Pellegrini who makes a pair of substitutions in midfield. Andres Guardado and Juanmi come on, with Nabil Fekir and William Carvalho both withdrawn.
59th min: Raphinha has now had two penalty shouts waved away by the official. The first looked like there was slight contact to his ankle but he was offside on the chance so the shout was moot. The second saw him go down under high contact near his face on a through ball played by Pedri, but VAR has a look and play continues. There was very little in that. It's not really a great look for a struggling player to try and flop hoping a penalty would be called.
54th min: Raphinha has been exceptionally wasteful today. He had one great moment in the first half feeding Pedri through on goal with a glittering vertical ball, but otherwise it's been a brutal day for the Brazilian. A change could be imminent with hero Ansu Fati waiting in the wings.
Raphinha se está convirtiendo en esa clase de jugadores que se engolocinan con el balón, que tardan en rematar, regatear o habilitar a su compañero. Es desesperante.— Manuel Alejandro Ramírez (@manuramirez95) February 1, 2023
51st min: The Real Betis supporters are back at it, screaming for a foul on Jules Kounde for making a tackle on the edge of the penalty area. Replay shows it was another exceptional tackle from a Barcelona defender. These home fans have made a meal of every close call!
48th min: Chance, Barcelona! ANOTHER brilliant save from Rui Silva! Alex Balde gets around his mark on the outside flank and feeds a cutback to Pedri atop the penalty spot. The Barcelona midfielder collects in acres of space with his back to goal, and rifles one on frame, but Silva is there to dive down to his left to make the stop with one hand.
Kickoff: The second half is under way, and let's hope it's more entertaining than the opening 45 minutes. The ESPN halftime report mentioned that Xavi was incredibly frustrated through the first half, understandably as he was forced to watch his team progress forward extremely slowly.
No changes for either side, which isn't exactly surprising, as the players collectively need to take the impetus on themselves, no one substitution would really make a massive difference on the whole.
The final 15 minutes of the half at least provided some attacking impetus from the two sides, but overall, that was an utterly horrid half of football. More complaining about the official than attacking impetus.
Real Betis packed it in and tried to play on the break, which earned them one or two decent chances but otherwise ground the game to a halt. Barcelona, for their part, were happy to just knock the ball around for a while, sometimes literally standing still, hoping to coax Betis out of their shell, and they refused to oblige. Credit the referee for doing his best to keep the game flowing when the players refused to.
0 - Barcelona have failed to register a shot on target in a first half of a game for the second time this season in all competitions (also against Bayern Munich in the Champions League). Vigilance. pic.twitter.com/teBKSoySBa — OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 1, 2023
45th min: Today's official Ricardo de Burgos has managed to anger both sides equally! First Robert Lewandowski is thrown to the turf and has his palms to the air, and then moments later a tackle from Sergio Busquets has the home fans again up in arms. They both looked questionable, but fair play to the official to try and get something to this otherwise spotty match.
41st min: Barcelona win a corner off a Gavi shot that's blocked. The ensuing delivery is a dangerous one but cleared before it can reach Robert Lewandowski.
The Betis home fans are again having a go at the official for a no-call in the buildup to the initial move that won the corner, and while yeah, Andreas Christensen probably pushed his man in the back a bit, there's really not much to it. This home crowd isn't holding any punches!
39th min: The crowd is incensed by a Frenkie de Jong tackle on the edge of the Barcelona penalty area, but the referee does not take any action. Replay shows it was a fantastic slide, as his outstretched toe poked the ball away from the Betis man who ended up in a heap.
37th min: Chance, Barcelona! SAVE, RUI SILVA! The ball somehow bobbles right to Pedri off a weird bounce from a 50/50 duel, but his chance is stopped expertly by the Real Betis goalkeeper! That would have been an incredibly fortunate goal for Barcelona, but it remains scoreless!
34th min: Chance, Barcelona! Raphinha has the ball in the back of the net, but it won't count! The flag is up on the delivery from deep on the left flank, and replay shows the decision was correct, confirmed by semi-automated VAR. Now things are livening up a bit!
❌Gol anulado al Barcelona por fuera de juego pic.twitter.com/0xHrcv4kYp — BeSoccer (@besoccer_ES) February 1, 2023
32nd min: Chance, Real Betis! Finally some action! Real Betis end up with a three-on-two break thanks to nifty work by Nabil Fekir to get around Andreas Christensen. Aitor Ruibal does well to send a cross past the central man covered to the far post where Sergio Canales is wide open, but by the time he pulls the trigger, two Barcelona defenders had recovered, including Jules Kounde who makes the key block at the death.
29th min: This game has been utterly putrid so far, if we're being completely honest. Barcelona have very little room to operate, as Betis pack in the midfield, but it comes at the expense of their own attack. There's been hardly any final third action for either side.
Raphinha sends in an absolutely woeful cross that misses the entire penalty area by miles and goes out of play.
This Real Betis vs Barcelona match has been truly awful.
Frenkie de Jong just delivered maybe the worst through-ball I've ever seen. Been such a terrible game so far on both sides. Betis have offered almost nothing.
24th min: The game has ground to a bit of a halt, and Nabil Fekir is tackled well by Gavi who produces a pinpoint two-footed challenge. The home fans don't like it, but it's clearly legal. Then Gavi is hacked moments later by a retaliation foul, which the referee blows for, angering the home fans further. It's the right call on both occasions.
Gavi wants a yellow card for Sergio Canales, but the referee won't go that far. It's getting chippy here as the flow of the game has stuttered some.
18th min: Chance, Barcelona! Pedri is through but Rui Silva nicks it off his feet! He's threaded through wonderfully by Raphinha who sneaks it right through the legs of William Carvalho, but Pedri opts to try and round the Real Betis goalkeeper, and he's got it taken off him by a decisive goalkeeping move! Xavi is furious, as his side have decisively dominated this match but can't pick out a good moment in front of goal.
El pase de Raphinha no te lo da Dembélé. El pase a Pedri para dejarlo solo es increíble.— Guille Casquero (@GuilleCasquero) February 1, 2023
14th min: Chance, Barcelona! Robert Lewandowski really should score there! On a Barcelona corner, he splits two defenders brilliantly and leaps to meet the delivery, but heads it into the ground and then wide. That's one he'll know he should do better with, a missed opportunity!
12th min: Aitor Ruibal wins the ball off Sergio Busquets in midfield and springs Borja Iglesias on the break, but he's closed down by three Barcelona defenders at the last possible moment and can't get a shot off. He dramatically flops to the ground after he's already lost the ball, but the referee rightly is having none of it.
10th min: Real Betis's first venture into the attacking third takes 10 minutes to arrive, but it's a dangerous one, as Luiz Henrique floats a cross along the face of goal that has to be booted safely out for a corner by the Barcelona defense. The visitors are lucky nobody was there to meet the initial delivery, as there was some space in front of goal to put a finish on that.
9th min: Robert Lewandowski takes a massive hack from 25 yards out, but it's blocked before it can make its way on frame. He had teammates streaking vertically and should have passed the ball, but apparently he's got his heat seeking missiles locked and loaded for his La Liga return.
6th min: Barcelona have quieted the crowd some with a heavy dose of possession, and now they have a free-kick from an awkward, central location a good 35 yards away from goal. Pedri floats it in to the head of Ronald Araujo, but he can't get enough of a touch to direct it on frame.
Still, Barcelona clicking early here, and the home side will want to string a few passes together to alleviate the early domination.
3rd min: Barcelona are into the attack through Raphinha who releases down the right and gets in behind the Betis back line, but he's flagged correctly for offside. A warning sign! Betis play a very high line under Manuel Pellegrini.
Kickoff: The match is under way! The Real Betis fans are in FULL voice, and are extremely audible over the television broadcast. What an atmosphere! The stadium is full and bumping in Seville.
5 mins to kick: One thing to remember is that Robert Lewandowski, who returns from his three-match suspension, was able to play in other competitions while he sat out three league games. That means he has been able to stay sharp with match fitness through his time out and should be fine to hit the ground running.
18 mins to kick: The players are out for warmups and this match is getting closer. Barcelona has an opportunity here to open up an eight-point advantage atop the La Liga table with a win, which feels huge given how Real Madrid have slipped since the World Cup. Betis, meanwhile, can draw level with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid on points with a victory, and can still slide into fifth with a draw, so there's a lot at stake here for both sides.
35 mins to kick: With Robert Lewandowski back in the lineup, Barcelona will hope it doesn't come to this, but according to Opta, the club has never won four consecutive top flight matches by a one-goal margin. They won their last three matches all by a 1-0 scoreline, having to scrape together victories without their main striker.
3 - Barcelona have won each of their last three LaLiga games by a one goal margin – never in the competition have they previously won four on the bounce by a single goal. Pragmatic. pic.twitter.com/0Q5g35zdMR — OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 1, 2023
60 mins to kick: The Real Betis lineup is also official, and there are two fascinating wrinkles, one on each flank. Manager Manuel Pellegrini has rotated both his full-backs, with Aitor Ruibal coming in on the right and Abner entering on the left. Ruibal has seen decent time in a platoon with Youssouf Sabaly, but his 22-year-old Brazilian counterpart is making just his second appearance of the season, slotted into the left-hand spot after Alex Moreno signed for Aston Villa.
It's a huge moment for Abner, who will be seeing a lot of both Raphinha and Gavi in this match. He'll want a good performance to ward off a challenge from 23-year-old Juan Miranda for the left-back spot.
Cambia los laterales Pellegrini y pone como titular tanto a Abner como a Ruibal. Lo demás, once esperado para jugar de tú a tú contra el #FCBarcelona. Veremos como le sale al #RealBetis. Partido clave hoy.— Manu Colchón (@manu_colchon) February 1, 2023
68 mins to kick: The Barcelona lineup is in, and it's as expected except for one interesting tweak. With Ousmane Dembele out thanks to a hamstring injury, Xavi has decided to deploy four midfielders and play Robert Lewandowski up top alongside Raphinha. Ansu Fati, who would have been a natural replacement for Dembele on the wing, remains on the bench in his super sub role.
Four mids back again. All eyes on Raphinha. Gavi number 6. Lewandowski returns. Looks like Xavi has his preferred defensive line pretty clear. pic.twitter.com/qiafOESBsW — Pol Ballús (@polballus) February 1, 2023
82 mins to kick: They're testing out the smoke machines at the home of Real Betis in Spain. Should be an exciting atmosphere for fans in Seville!
95 mins to kick: One of the weirder stories to come out of Barcelona's financial crisis it the issues with Gavi's new contract that have arisen in the past few days. The 18-year-old signed a new deal through the summer of 2026, but La Liga rejected the contract's registration prior to the January transfer window closing. Had they not been able to register Gavi's new deal, he would not have been able to play through the second half of the season in league action.
However, a Spanish court ruled that La Liga must accept the deal, as it would have caused Barcelona "irreparable harm" had they not been able to do so, seeing Gavi potentially leave on a free transfer. Gavi's contract has been registered and he is available for selection today, and he will wear No. 6 today for the first time, changing his number from the old 30 he wore due to his official status as a youth team player.
Still, there could be more to come on this. Spanish journalist Luis Rojo is reporting that Gavi's release clause in his new contract is written as $1 billion, but if La Liga win their appeal of the court's decision, it could be slashed to as low as $50 million, leaving a young superstar midfielder available for an incredibly low price.
🚨🚨| If La Liga wins the appeal, then Gavi's contract renewal will be CANCELLED and his release clause will drop to €50M.@Luis_F_Rojo [🎖️]— Managing Barça (@ManagingBarca) January 31, 2023
105 mins to kick: Barcelona will go with their exceptional gold kits today, which are always a good look.
120 mins to kick: Robert Lewandowski managed to keep his lead atop the La Liga scoring table through his three-match suspension, and Barcelona will be thrilled to have him back. The Blaugrana were poor up front without Lewandowski during his three match suspension, scoring just three goals on 2.93 xG. Before his suspension, Barcelona were averaging 2.65 xG per match in league play, but had to scrounge together three 1-0 victories.
Only one player will miss this match for Real Betis due to injury, as Juan Cruz has been missing since the World Cup break ended due to a hamstring problem.
It's too soon for new loan signing Ayoze Perez who arrived from Leicester City on Deadline Day, who fails to even make the bench. Abner slides in at left-back, beating Juan Miranda to the role after regular starter Alex Moreno left for Aston Villa at the deadline. Aitor Ruibal is selected over Youssouf Sabaly at right-back.
Nabil Fekir sat last time out against Getafe, but came off the bench for the final 20 minutes to provide a positive injection and help secure a late victory, and he starts today. Head coach Manuel Pellegrini had to choose two between Guido Rodriguez, William Carvalho, and Juanmi, and it's the former two who get the nod.
Real Betis confirmed starting lineup (4-2-3-1): R. Silva (GK) — Ruibal, Pezzella, Felipe, Abner — Carvalho, Rodriguez — Henrique, Canales, Fekir — Iglesias.
Real Betis subs (12): Bravo (GK), Martin (GK), Montoya, E. Gonzalez, V. Ruiz, Sabaly, Miranda, Guardado, Juanmi, W. Jose, Joaquin, Rodri.
The biggest issue for Barcelona for this midweek match is an injury to Ousmane Dembele, who will miss a few weeks after being forced off over the weekend against Girona with a hamstring injury. Dembele has a history of hamstring injuries, which is worrying, but this one doesn't appear to be too serious.
However, Robert Lewandowski is back in La Liga play after serving his three match suspension for being sent off after abusing an official. Barcelona struggled up front without Lewandowski at the point of the attack, winning all three games 1-0 in his absence.
In midfield, Xavi has decisions to make as Frenkie de Jong did not project as a starter before the season but has been a mainstay since the start of October. He sat out the win over Getafe but returned to play 90 minutes last time out against Girona. There has been rotation in midfield through the winter fixture congestion, with Gavi, Pedri, and Sergio Busquets all taking turns on the bench. It feels like Busquets could be sacrificed this time around, having started seven of the last eight league games.
Barcelona confirmed starting lineup (4-4-2): ter Stegen (GK) — Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde — Gavi, Busquets, de Jong, Pedri — Raphinha, Lewandowski.
Barcelona subs (11): Pena (GK), Tenas (GK), Garcia, Alba, Alonso, Roberto, Kessie, P. Torre, Alarcon, F. Torres, Fati.
Here's how to watch all of the action from this match in some of the major territories:Date Time TV channel Streaming USA Wed, Feb. 1 15:00 ET ESPN Deportes ESPN+, fuboTV Canada Wed, Feb. 1 15:00 ET TSN 3, TSN 5 TSN app, TSN+ UK Wed, Feb. 1 20:00 GMT LaLiga TV Viaplay Sports Australia Thu, Feb. 2 07:00 AEST — Optus Sport, beIN Sports Connect New Zealand Thu, Feb. 2 09:00 NZDT — beIN Sports Connect India Thu, Feb. 2 01:30 IST Sports18 JioTV Hong Kong Thu, Feb. 2 04:00 HKT Now Sports 2 Now Player Malaysia Thu, Feb. 2 04:00 MYT beIN Sports sooka, beIN Sports Connect Singapore Thu, Feb. 2 04:00 SGT beIN Sports StarHub TV+, beIN Sports Connect
UK: La Liga matches in the UK are carried on LaLiga TV, with streaming available on Viaplay Sports.
USA: All La Liga matches in the United States are shown on ESPN's premium streaming service ESPN+, requiring a subscription to view. Select matches, including today's match, are broadcast in Spanish on ESPN Deportes, which is available to stream via fuboTV.
Canada: All La Liga matches in Canada are available via TSN's streaming options, with today's match also shown on linear on TSN 3 and TSN 5.
Australia: Fans in Australia can stream every match live and on demand on Optus Sport.
Odds via BetMGM (USA), Sports Interaction (Canada), SkyBet (UK), and Neds (Australia).
Barcelona are an understandably heavy favorite in today's match, given their lead atop the La Liga table and incredible run of results.
What oddsmakers are far more unsure about is how the match will play out in terms of game flow. It seems that the clash between Barcelona's incredible league defensive record and the wild 2-2 draw these two teams played to recently in the Supercopa semifinals has books split nearly down the middle both on the total goals and whether both teams will score.BetMGM Sports