FC Barcelona travel to the Benito Villamarin to face Real Betis with a chance to move atop the La Liga table, albeit for a short while at least.
Things have turned around quickly for Barcelona after a mixed start to the season. The Blaugrana have come back in form after a somewhat mediocre first half of the season, and are within touching distance of their rivals Real Madrid atop the La Liga standings.
On the other hand, Real Betis are struggling to put together a streak of decent results, as they find themselves languishing in lowly 13th place with a dreadful goal difference of -10, the lowest of anyone outside the relegation zone in La Liga.
A win for Barcelona would see them move to the top of the table, with Sevilla and Real Madrid braced to play their respective fixtures at a later time on Sunday, a prospect Luis Enrique and his men are likely to look forward to.
The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at all the news surrounding the match-up between Real Betis and Barcelona.
Team News & Tactics
El Glorioso have not lived up to their name in recent times. This season too they find themselves 13th on the table and with a fair share of injury concerns to take care of. Manager Victor Sanchez del Amo would be buoyed by the return of Aissa Mandi from the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) after Algeria bowed out of the event.
New signing Alin Tosca and loan signing Ruben Pardo, who arrives from Real Sociedad, have trained with their new teammates and could be in the match-day 18 squad at the very least, if not the starting eleven.
The likes of Joaquin, Felipe Gutierrez, Antonio Sanabria and Darko Brasanac are all set to miss the home tie against the Catalan giants, while the youthful Jose Carlos is also on the sidelines with an injury issue.
Midfielder Jonas Martin suffered a knock which may mean a debut for Ruben Pardo and the boss would hope the maestro can have the desired instant effect on his side’s fortunes.
Probable Lineup ( 3-5-2 ): Adan; Mandi, Pezzella, Bruno; Piccini, Pardo, Donk, Ceballos, Durmisi; Ruben Castro, Alegria
Andres Iniesta remains on the sidelines due to a calf problem, but Denis Suarez is starting to look like a potential long-term successor to the Spanish veteran, something even Luis Enrique admitted could turn out to be the case.
The former Manchester City player is set to retain his place in Iniesta’s stead after more than satisfactory displays in the recent matches. Elsewhere, new signing Andre Gomes and Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic could be his midfield partners in the absence of Sergio Busquets, who is also nursing an injury.
Sergi Roberto and Javier Mascherano are doubts for the game. Mascherano is unlikely to be risked by Enrique, who could opt to start Samuel Umtiti as Pique’s partner-in-crime in central defence, the boss would hope Roberto is fit enough to start the game though.
Enrique is unlikely to rest any of the MSN trio with the fixture of huge significance, as a win could propel the Catalan giants up to the top of the table, which would provide a huge boost to their morale.
Probable Lineup ( 4-3-3 ): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Umtiti, Pique, Alba; Gomes, Rakitic, Denis Suarez; Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar
- Real Betis have lost each of their last six meetings against Barcelona by a margin of 2 goals or more.
- Real Betis last won a La Liga match against Barcelona back in the 2007-08 campaign, with a 3-2 home win over the Catalan giants.
- Ruben Castro scored a brace in the August fixture this season in a 6-2 defeat to Barcelona at Nou Camp and is likely to be the attacking outlet for Betis on Sunday. In fact, Betis’ last three goals against Barcelona have all been scored by Ruben Castro.
- Luis Suarez has scored 5 goals in the last three matches against Real Betis and the Uruguayan could prove to be a menace again for El Glorioso’s defence.
- Barcelona are on a current run of 12 La Liga matches unbeaten and could stretch it to 13 with a positive result against Real Betis.
Real Betis 2 – 4 FC Barcelona
Real Betis have the firepower in them to trouble Barcelona at the Benito Villamarin. Ruben Castro is likely to prove to be a handful for the duo of Umtiti and Pique and the veteran could sneak in to score one or two for his team.
But the power of MSN is likely to catapult the Catalan giants to another victory against El Glorioso, a result that would mark Barcelona’s long-awaited return to the top of the La Liga table this season.