Barça have one hand on La Liga title thanks to grit of forgotten men in clásico victory

Roberto and Kessié have had to make do with limited playing time this year but were decisive on the most important day

FC Barcelona fans in the Camp Nou (by Cillian Shields)
FC Barcelona fans in the Camp Nou (by Cillian Shields) / ACN
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

March 20, 2023 03:07 PM

March 21, 2023 11:33 AM

FC Barcelona have one hand on the La Liga title after beating Real Madrid 2-1 on Sunday night thanks to goals from two unlikely sources: Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessié. 

The midfielders have had to make do with limited playing time this campaign, as neither make the blaugrana's first-choice XI if all other players are fit. Yet, when it came to the most important day of all, the pair were ready to step up into their roles and had a huge impact in the rare come-from-behind victory against their eternal rivals. 

Both players have spent far more time watching others lead Barça to the top of the table, while they were unable to affect the campaign very much from the bench, something that can have a demoralizing effect on footballers. The grit and determination to keep focus over the course of almost a full year and be ready physically and mentally when called upon is something every great football squad needs, and Roberto and Kessié more than showed their value to the team with this clásico victory. 

Sergi Roberto in particular has been a much-maligned figure in recent years, with many fans viewing him as a symbol of Barça's decline and a player who should be trimmed from the squad. After playing out of position to fill gaps in the team for some seasons, the midfielder no longer has many prospects of making it to the first team with any regularity. 

Franck Kessié, meanwhile, arrived last summer as a free transfer when the club were 'lever-pulling' survival mode. He came with little fanfare, alongside the much more exciting and expensive Robert Lewandowski, and without being able to break into the first team some fans must have been left wondering about the necessity of signing such a player who was only going to make up the numbers. 

Yet, both have left huge marks on this resurgent campaign for FC Barcelona. Roberto started the game and gave a man-of-the-match performance, scoring a vital equalizing goal just on the stroke of half time, while Kessié replaced him on 77 minutes and sent the Camp Nou into raptures with his last-minute winner.

Should the Catalan club now go on to claim the La Liga title, as expected, it will be one of the most important in the club's recent history, having fallen a long way since the departure of Lionel Messi and dealing with the financial chaos that has engulfed the club since the days of Bartomeu.

This will be a La Liga title that Barcelona will be able to point to and say: 'we are back.' 

Referees payments scandal backdrop

The game was played before a backdrop of ongoing tension around the Catalan club and in Spanish football as a whole as the 'Negreira case' rumbles on. A court is currently investigating alleged corruption as Barça are understood to have paid some €7 million to a former referees official over the course of years. 

Prosecutors believe that the payments were for "actions tending to favor" FC Barcelona in matches and competitions, and clásico rivals Real Madrid have decided to present as private prosecutors in the case, arguing they are victims of the alleged 'continuous' corruption.

Those of a Madrid persuasion will point to Marco Asensio's disallowed goal 10 minutes from time, as the forward was just millimeters offside. Initial angles showed in the television broadcast left many "doubts" as manager Carlo Ancelotti repeated after the game, but other angles that emerged later appeared to show the Madrid player more clearly offside. 

Barça president Joan Laporta has spent weeks promising to speak publicly soon about the club's position on the case, all the while arguing innocence, but the club's as-of-yet lack of formal response to the allegations smacks of poor PR management

Yet, the cohesion between the team and the fanbase was strong on the evening, with strong support from the stands pushing on a team on the verge of winning their first La Liga title since 2018/19, and their first majoe trophy since the departure of legendary former captain Lionel Messi. 

Motomami culés

Barça wore a special edition jersey for the game featuring the logo of Rosalía's Motomami. The club's sponsorship deal with Spotify allow for the use of some artists emblems in some games, as Barça wore a Drake logo in the first league clásico of the season in Madrid. 

Before kickoff, the Catalan singer posted a video to social media wearing the special jersey and singing the Barça club anthem, but changing all the words to the name of her album, 'Motomami'. 

Fans will be able to get their hands on two different versions of the special edition jerseys.

The first style will feature the logo with the singer's name and the number 1 on the back. Only 1899 of these will be made, in both men's and women's sizes, and will be on sale for €400.

Another version of the jersey will be available for €2,000, with only 22 available - 11 for men and 11 for women. What makes them unique is that the letters have a glow-in-the-dark effect, the numbers are numbered from 1 to 11, and in addition, they will be signed by the starting eleven players of respective men's and women's clásicos.