January 21, 2018 / 11:26 PM / 8 months ago

Barca's second-half stamina key to big lead in La Liga

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona’s ability to outlast their opponents in the second half has been one of the pillars of their stunning La Liga campaign and they again waited until after halftime before turning on the style in Sunday’s 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Real Betis vs FC Barcelona - Estadio Benito Villamarin, Seville, Spain - January 21, 2018 Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde before the match REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The game between the runaway leaders and the usually highly entertaining Betis was delicately poised at 0-0 until Ivan Rakitic broke the deadlock in the 58th minute and as the home side began to wilt, Barca came into their own.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez combined to devastating effect to score twice each and complete the rout, taking the number of goals Barca have struck in the second half in league games to 40 and sending them 11 points clear at the top of the standings.

“Betis had a risky game plan, playing with a high line of pressure and man marking us all over the pitch. They were very fresh at the start of the game and played convincingly and we had a lot of problems trying to play but little by little we found our way,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said.

“We grew into the game as the minutes went by and once our opponents opened up in the second half we scored and were able to play more fluidly.”

Barca’s remarkable tally of 40 second-half goals (out of 57 overall) is superior to the number scored by every team in the league over 90 minutes with the exception of Valencia, who have netted 41.

Sunday’s game was far from the only occasion in which Barca altered the result with their performance in the second half: as well as Betis, they beat Alaves, Las Palmas, Villarreal and Real Madrid after drawing 0-0 at halftime.

The Catalans came back from losing positions at the interval to earn wins over Getafe and Real Sociedad, meanwhile, and snatched a draw at Atletico Madrid, meaning they have taken 17 of their 54 points due to second-half turnarounds.

Their resolute displays after the break contrast with Real Madrid, whose four league defeats this season have all come due to goals conceded in the second half, The champions’ tendency to collapse in the latter stages of games is a key reason why they are 19 points adrift of Barca.

Second-placed Atletico have also suffered from switching off late in games, dropping six of eight points lost at home this season due to conceding goals in the closing stages.

Diego Simeone’s side let in a late leveller in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Girona which left them 11 points behind Barca, who are rapidly closing in on a 25th Liga title.

Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond

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