Three nutmegs in a row? Barcelona have redefined the rules of performance art

Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Betis sent them to the top of La Liga for the first time in 2023-24, but the main takeaway from this Saturday night drubbing was the filthiest sequence of skill you’re ever likely to see.

To focus solely on goals, points and trophies is to reduce football to spreadsheet fodder. The kind of sport for people who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

The kind of sport consumed by beans who focus on net spend and policing the celebrations of other fans to distract themselves from their own miserable existence.

But football is art. It’s messy, imperfect and flawed like the rest of our planet. But it’s also beautiful, capable of producing moments that leave your jaw dislocated on the floor and your heart beating like an African tribal drum.

Barca achieved both against Betis, thrashing good opposition at their temporary home thanks to goals from Joao Felix, Joao Cancelo, Ferran Torres, Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha.

It’s hardly surprising that Betis and their spirit withered away after being on the receiving end of three consecutive nutmegs. Yes. Not one. Not even a humiliating two. But three.

Alejandro Balde, the left-back who has become a fixture for club and country before his 20th birthday, started the career-ending sequence by sending Guido Rodriguez for some pan con tomate on Las Ramblas.

Having clocked the potential to eradicate Betis from the footballing map, Cancelo got in on the act. With the energy of a man acting out his revenge fantasy against Manchester City, he lured Rodri (close enough) into a trap before whipping the ball between his gaping legs.

With Betis officials seriously contemplating deleting their club and hitching up with Sevilla, it took a 16-year-old to add the final touches to this multi-layered embarrassment.

Lamine Yamal has burst into wider consciousness this season, the brace-wearing forward who plays with a fearless that belies his tender age.

And he burst the pea-sized ego of Sergi Altimira with the filthiest of nutmegs. No wonder he was bundled to the floor by his exasperated opponent. And no wonder the Barca fans whooped like they were watching a trapeze artist at the circus. This was spell-binding stuff.

“We have to improve in everything, we cannot concede so much in defence, we cannot forget that they could have scored against us and we must not slow down,” a nit-picking Xavi said after the game. “Sometimes they dominated us and that cannot be.

“I am happy, very satisfied to see how everyone plays with this joy, with very good feelings and I see that the people have had a good time. This looked like the Camp Nou today. We have minimized a great team and I am very happy.

“It is ideal that all the top players score, four, all except Lamine; a goal from a free kick that we hadn’t scored in two or three seasons; five goals at home; we haven’t conceded, although we have conceded some transitions.”

“We had worked on pressure and getting the ball out, Cancelo was good in stealing the 1-0 and Uri in the quick cross to Joao Félix.

“We worked for Cancelo to be an inside winger, we were looking for superiority inside and we have found it. If we are more positional we will attack better.”

On balance, you probably want a perfectionist in charge of your football club. Never truly satisfied and always looking for microscopic ways to improve is how you get ahead in the modern game.

But Barcelona’s nutmeg hat-trick proved the game, despite the daily avalanche of sh*t surrounding it, remains beautiful.

By Michael Lee

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