Barcelona will be eager to ease the tension around Camp Nou and open their La Liga season with a win, after suffering embarrassment in Supercopa de Espana

Ernesto Valverde will hope Barcelona get off to a winning start in La Liga as they host Real Betis on Sunday. The dealings in the transfer window has put the Catalan giants in a tough spot, especially with the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain.

Their performances on field have not been too encouraging either. Barcelona’s pre-season travels turned out to be average, while they lost to Real Madrid again in Supercopa de Espana. That might come as a tough pill to swallow after losing out to Real Madrid last season as well. However, the club will be looking to set things right with a win at home.

Real Betis appear to have improved as a squad under new boss Quique Setién. They actually have solid chances of putting up a tough fight to get on the score-sheet. Setién, who formerly managed Las Palmas, is known to send his team out with strong attacking intent, paving the way for an intense nail-biter.

Team News and Tactics

Barcelona

Luis Suarez will be sidelined for four weeks after picking up a knee injury in the second leg of the Super Cup against Real Madrid. Gerard Pique also sustained a muscle injury in that game, which could mean that he will not play against Betis. Andres Iniesta is also unlikely to play due to a thigh injury.

The number of injuries to key players could pose some problems for Barcelona. New signing Paulinho is expected to make his debut but the Brazilian might start on the bench. Given the current situation, Paco Alcacer is likely come in for Suarez in attack while Gerard Deulofeu will continue to fill Neymar’s shoes.

Although the Catalans started with a 3-5-2 formation at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, Valverde could revert to a 4-3-3 for the game against Betis. A win is what Barca will be after, and despite all the injuries, they will need to put a strong show to start the 2017/18 season on a strong note.

Since Pique is likely to miss out, Javier Mascherano could start alongside Samuel Umtiti in central defence, while summer signing Nelson Semedo is likely to feature from the outset at right-back. Only Lionel Messi remains from the deadly MSN trio to face Betis, which could be a concern since their back-up forwards are yet to prove their worth.

Predicted lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen, Semedo, Mascherano, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Gomes; Messi, Alcacer, Deulofeu

Real Betis

Betis lost their star player Dani Ceballos to Real Madrid, but they have been quite active in the transfer market. The club signed Andres Guardado, former Barcelona winger Cristian Tello and ex-Manchester City midfielder Javi Garcia – making it quite a haul.

Another summer signing, midfielder Ryad Boudebouz, is understood to be building up his fitness and is unlikely to play a part at Camp Nou. Meanwhile, their young full-back Junior Firpo is not ready to start either. Regardless of the absentees, it does seem like the dawn of an exciting new project under Quique Setien against Barcelona.

Betis only lost narrowly to both Inter and AC Milan in their last two pre-season fixtures, which makes them seemingly strong. They are expected to take on Barcelona with the same 4-5-1 varied formation, and wingers Joaquin and Nahuel may be the key.

All eyes will be on Sergio Leon, after his 10 goals last season helped steer the club away from any threat of relegation. He is a player who extracts the best out of whatever chances he gets, which can give them a strong advantage. Additonally, Setien did great things with Las Palmas and he look to do the same with Real Betis.

Predicted lineup (4-5-1): Adan, Barragan, Pezzelli, Feddal, Durmisi; Joaquin, Brasanic, Guardado, Camarasa, Nahuel; Leon

Key Stats

  • Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 12 league games against Betis. The last time they lost to the club was back in March 2008.
  • The Catalans have enjoyed victories in all their season openers since August 2008.
  • Lionel Messi has scored 349 goals in La Liga so far. A goal against Betis could see him become the second player from the top five European leagues to reach 350 goals for the same club.
  • Betis have only won two of their last 11 season openers in La Liga.

Prediction

Barcelona 2 – 1 Real Betis

On paper, this should be a match where Barcelona coast to a comfortable victory. However, given the situation, it is unlikely to be as straight-forward a game as most fans would want it to be. They might not face any dangerous situations but they will have to fight hard for a victory, nevertheless.

Betis have a long way to go, but they are expected to be very organised under Setien. The new boss had his Las Palmas side looking very solid for the majority of last season, and that is something he will continue to do with Betis as well.

Having said that, Barcelona will still have the fire power to steal a victory. It will give them a chance to see how the team fares without Neymar in the league, and also be important for Valverde. The manager will be eager to start his debut season with a win. THT predicts a 2-1 victory for Barcelona at Camp Nou.

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