Barcelona went 26 long months without tasting defeat on their own turf.
But when they were finally beaten they were played off the park at their own game.
Yet this wasn’t Real or Atletico Madrid. It wasn’t even Sevilla.
This was Real Betis.
A sleeping Spanish giant, this is the Betis of Denilson and Marcos Assunção fame but with a far greater emphasis on the collective in the class of 2018.
Because while they might be littered with eye-catching names, both experienced and prodigal, their contagious team ethos is most endearing.
Footy Hipsters™ will need just one look at their squad; Marc Bartra, William Carvalho, Joaquin, Giovani Lo Celso, Christian Tello and co. and fall head over heels.
But their manager Quique Setién, a self-confessed Cruyffian disciple, deserves most credit and is now the only La Liga boss to win at the Bernabeu and Nou Camp in the last decade.
Setién masterminded Betis’ highest league finish in 14 years last season, qualifying for the Europa League.
While their domestic form has been patchy at best they top their Europa League group after four unbeaten games which included a win at AC Milan.
Betis are very much style over substance, pretty not practical.
Prior to conquering the Nou Camp it wasn’t necessarily working but, according to Guardian journalist Sid Lowe, their 4-3 win was described as Antológico; a performance to go down in history.
Joaquin, a Betis boy who became a key cog at that seminal Valencia team of the mid 2000s, embodies everything enjoyable about them.
The now 37-year-old proved his longevity by scoring against Barca for the first time since the 2004/05 season.
His and Mexican legend Andres Guardado’s wealth of experience is beautifully complemented by a bunch of unfulfilled talents.
Bartra, Tello and Sergio Canales have all had spells at either Barca or Real yet failed to make the grade for one reason or another.
Carvalho was wanted by everyone in Europe whilst the stylish Lo Celso has floated around the PSG and Argentina sides in the last few seasons.
Even Takashi Inui was one of the surprise stars of the World Cup with Japan, scoring a famous goal in that pulsating last 16 defeat to Belgium.
What’s not to like?
Setién is unmoved in his commitment to sexy football, regardless of the opposition.
It might not work every week but, when it really clicks, they’re capable of toppling the Nou Camp and San Siro.
They’re a neutral’s dream… so are they now your second team?
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