Barcelona kicked off their campaign in La Liga on a winning note, beating Real Betis 2-0 on an emotional night for the city on Sunday night

Terror struck Barcelona on Thursday, bringing everything to a standstill and leaving people shocked. But football proved once again that such activities can do nothing to break the spirits of the people, as FC Barcelona brought some cheer to the gloomy faces with a 2-0 win on Sunday.

The Blaugrana were coming into this match on the back of consecutive Clasico losses to bitter rivals Real Madrid in the previous week. But, they started their 2017-18 campaign in La Liga on a strong note, standing toe to toe with Los Blancos atop the table, only separated by goal difference.

Ernesto Valverde’s men were a dominant force for much of the match, despite boasting a weakened look. And the hosts took a deserving lead in the 36th minute when Alin Tosca deflected Gerard Deulofeu’s cross into his own net.

Sergi Roberto doubled Barcelona’s advantage three minutes later with a well taken close range finish to score his first goal in La Liga. The Spaniard’s goal proved to be enough for Barcelona, as they started their campaign on a strong note to alleviate some of the pre-season fears.

The Hard Tackle takes a look at some of the major talking points that emerged in the aftermath of Sunday’s encounter.

#TotsSomBarcelona – We Are All Barcelona

Sunday’s match came at a time when the city had been at its lowest ebb in a long time. Terror activities had sought to break the spirits of the people, but as is often the case, football reunited the people of the city, often divided by their loyalties to different clubs.

FC Barcelona had announced prior to the match that shirts of the players will carry the name of the city in a tribute to all those affected by the attacks, in what was a grand gesture by the club. Unsurprisingly though, Camp Nou was not filled to capacity, with the official attendance announced to be 56,480.

Nevertheless, those present inside the stadium sent a clear message of defiance, unfurling a “No one can ever break us” banner while ringing out chants of “we are not afraid” all throughout the match. In the end, the message is clear, #TotSomBarcelona – We are all Barcelona.

Gerard Deulofeu – An Able Backup, and Perhaps More?

Much of the pre-season talks regarding Barcelona surrounded Neymar’s controversial move to PSG, and how the transfer had left Barcelona woefully short of quality in attack, at a time when Ernesto Valverde was already desperately seeking improvements in other areas.

Following the Brazilian’s departure, the only recognised options to take up the spot on the left side of attack were Arda Turan, Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu. But, none of these players seemed to have been inspiring a lot of confidence heading into the 2017-18, especially after two humiliating legs in the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid.

Luis Suarez’s knee injury only ended up deepening Valverde’s troubles and Barcelona were not coming into the match in the best way possible. Nevertheless, with moves for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele still far from being completed, Deulofeu was the chosen one to accompany Lionel Messi in attack on Sunday.

And the Spaniard surely impressed in his second coming for the Blaugrana. The player combined superbly with fellow summer arrival Nelson Semedo on the right flank, while at the same time linking up effortlessly with Messi up front.

More importantly, it was Deulofeu, who made two significant contributions for the goals that clinched the tie for Barcelona, first crossing the ball that ended with Alin Tosca putting the ball into his own net before laying in the pass for Sergi Roberto to score his first league goal.

There are still concerns over his consistency, and Deulofeu did blow hot and cold over the course of the match. But, his second league debut provided an indication that the youngster can be an able backup should Barcelona succeed in their pursuit of their targets.

That Wonder Tackle

The last year or so hasn’t been easy for Javier Mascherano. The 2016-17 season was one full of struggles for the Argentine veteran, who had to battle a spate of injuries that restricted his playing time considerably.

Come the start of the 2017-18 season, and Ernesto Valverde struggling to put together a starting lineup of his first-choice players, and Mascherano’s role has become highly important. With Gerard Pique out with injury, he was practically the only option at Valverde’s disposal to be Samuel Umtiti’s partner at the heart of defence.

And like Deulofeu, the Argentina international made his mark on Sunday’s match, and crucially so. One of the most telling moments on the night came when the score read 1-0. A second goal for Barcelona would have been a match clinching one, while the equaliser from Betis could have deflated the hosts.

And it looked like the latter was set to happen when Sergio Leon looked set to run clean through on goal. But, Mascherano put in a last ditch tackle, that brought back memories from the 2014 FIFA World Cup as well as a 2011 Champions League clash against Arsenal.

The tackle, perfect in every sense, didn’t just stop Leon in his tracks, but also started the counter attack that led to Barcelona doubling their lead. That goal by Sergi Roberto was the winner as the Catalan giants kicked off their campaign on the best possible note.

Sergi Roberto Provides Some Food For Thought

He may not be one of the most technically sound players. He may not even be one of the quickest players in Ernesto Valverde’s squad, or even the most creative one. But in Sergi Roberto, the Barcelona boss has a utility player who can be one of the most valuable commodities for him.

Roberto is also a player whose versatility threatens to affect his game time at Camp Nou. Last season, with no consistent option to choose from, Luis Enrique deployed the 25-year-old as a right-back, where he proved to be a solid and reliable player.

This season though, Roberto is set be deployed at the centre of the park, with Barcelona signing Nelson Semedo in the summer. But, with a host of options at his Valverde’s disposal, the player could have his game time being seriously affected.

Sergio Busquets is unlikely to be disposed as the holding midfielder, leaving six players to contest for two remaining spots in midfield. With his playing time likely to be restricted heavily, recent reports have suggested that Roberto’s frustrations could compel him to leave Camp Nou this summer.

However, after Sunday’s performance, Barcelona cannot afford to let the player leave. In what an all-action showing from the youngster, he went up and down the pitch tirelessly all through the match. He capped off a strong outing with the goal that won the Blaugrana the match as well.

With Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes struggling to adapt to life at Camp Nou, and with Iniesta not getting any younger, Roberto, with more playing time can potentially be just the solution Valverde has been looking for in midfield.

Similar Problems Surface For Real Betis

Considering the emotions of the match and Barcelona’s form in the buildup, Real Betis would have been fancying their chances at springing up with a shock result. But ultimately, it was their profligacy that cost the visitors at least one point from the match, if not more.

Poor decision making, lax finishing and below par passing in the final third saw Betis turn in a disappointing performance on the night. Sergio Leon, the leader of the Betis attack, was particularly culpable for his side heading home without anything to show for their efforts.

Come the end of the ninety minutes, the visitors had failed to muster up a single shot on target, while only managing two more off it. Thus, the match on Sunday was evidence enough to suggest that Betis will have to pull up their socks in attack to ensure a better finish come May 2018.

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