Barcelona will be looking to get their first points on the board in La Liga this season when they welcome Real Betis to Camp Nou on Sunday night.
The games continue to come our way thick and fast, with Matchday 2 of the 2019-20 La Liga season already underway. After kicking the season off last weekend, Barcelona will be bringing the curtains down on the second week of action in the Spanish top-flight, when they play hosts to Real Betis at Camp Nou on Sunday night.
Barcelona did not start the 2019-20 season all too well, with Athletic Bilbao handing them a shock 1-0 defeat at San Mames last week. To add to their misery, the La Liga champions will be without the services of Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez for the foreseeable future due, although captain Lionel Messi is set to return to action.
As for Real Betis, they have a new manager at the helm, with Rubi replacing Quique Setien. The start to life under the former Espanyol boss has hardly been ideal, with Los Verdiblancos being beaten 2-1 at home by Real Valladolid last weekend, in a game that also saw first-choice goalkeeper Joel Robles being sent off.
The corresponding fixtures last term produced one of the shocks of the season, with Real Betis handing a 4-3 defeat to Barcelona. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.
Team News & Tactics
As iterated earlier, Ernesto Valverde is set to be without the services of two key first-team players for the next month or so. Luis Suarez picked up a calf injury midway through the game against Athletic Bilbao last week, which will render him unavailable until after the international break.
Ousmane Dembele then sustained a hamstring injury in training this week, meaning he is set to be on the sidelines for around six weeks. With the two stars out injured, Barcelona are down to their bare bones, as far as attack is concerned, although the Valverde will heave a huge sigh of relief for having Lionel Messi back at his disposal.
But, despite the return of Messi, the Barcelona boss has just his captain, Antoine Griezmann and Rafinha Alcantara as the recognised attacking options, with Philippe Coutinho loaned out to Bayern Munich. And, the trio pick themselves for the visit of Real Betis, with Griezmann and Messi changing their positions in fluid fashion through the game.
Neto (shoulder) is the final of the three players on the treatment table, but his absence does not pose much of a concern, with first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen fit and available. The German was a shining star in defeat for Barcelona last week and will be a key figure once again when Real Betis come visiting.
The backline is unlikely to see any changes on Sunday either, but Nelson Semedo needs to improve drastically for him to hold onto his place on the right side of the defence. Against Real Betis, the Portuguese full-back should start, with Jordi Alba being deployed on the opposite flank, although summer signing Junior Firpo will be breathing down his neck.
Gerard Pique will play his 500th game for Barcelona on Sunday and will have Clement Lenglet as his partner at the heart of the defence once again. In the middle of the park, Frenkie de Jong might be the only one retained from last week, with Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets returning to give the hosts more control in midfield, creating the base for the attack to flourish.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, de Jong; Messi, Griezmann, Rafinha
Rubi will be forced to make a couple of changes at the very least to the side that started against Real Valladolid last week. At Barcelona on Sunday, the Real Betis boss will be without first-choice keeper Joel Robles, who is suspended, and star striker Borja Iglesias, who picked up an ankle injury in the season opening La Liga game for the visitors.
In Robles’s stead, summer signing Dani Martin is certain to start, while Iglesias should be replaced by Loren Moron on the other end. Meanwhile, Sergio Canales has shrugged off a minor ankle injury that forced him to miss out last weekend for Real Betis.
The 28-year-old though, is unlikely to find a place for himself in the starting lineup, with Nabil Fekir being preferred to him in the no. 10 role. Fekir will play in behind the central striker once again, from where he can use his creativity and goalscoring abilities to good effect.
Veteran forward Joaquin is a certain starter on the right side of the Real Betis attack, while former Barcelona man Cristian Tello should keep his place on the opposite flank ahead of promising young winger Diego Lainez. The midfield double pivot though, will hold the key for Real Betis on Sunday.
William Carvalho will be the man entrusted with the responsibility to cutting out Barcelona attacks, with Javi Garcia sitting alongside him in a defensive minded partnership. At the back, another one of former Barcelona stars, Marc Bartra will start, with Sidnei being his partner at the heart of the Real Betis defence.
The two full-backs, expected to be Emerson and Alfonso Pedraza, will be responsible for providing the width, although they will also need to be wary of their markers, Rafinha and Lionel Messi.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Martin; Emerson, Bartra, Sidnei, Alfonso Pedraza; Carvalho, Garcia; Joaquin, Fekir, Tello; Moron
- Barcelona have lost just one of their last 16 La Liga games against Real Betis (W12 D3), although it was the last one they played at Camp Nou (3-4 in November 2018).
- Coincidentally, Real Betis were the last side to get the better of Barcelona at Camp Nou in La Liga action, since when the Blaugrana have gone 12 league games without defeat (W11 D1).
- Barcelona lost their opening La Liga match of the season against Athletic Bilbao. The Catalans have not remained winless in the opening two league games of a campaign since the 2008-09 season under Pep Guardiola (D1 L1).
- Real Betis manager Rubi has lost all four of his managerial games against Barcelona, all of them in La Liga (two in charge of Espanyol, one in charge each of Levante and Sporting Gijon).
- Barcelona have failed to win 15 of the 42 games in all competitions that Luis Suarez has missed since making his debut (W27 D11 L4).
Player to Watch
What a difference a year can make. Just 15 months ago, Nabil Fekir was heavily linked with a move to Liverpool before it infamously fizzled out. But, after a sub-par season with Lyon, his stock visibly fell. Although, an ambitious Real Betis will be hoping he can rediscover his best and help them harbour hopes of European football.
The start to life at Real Betis has not gone to plan, with Fekir still adapting to a new league and a new system. But, in the team that will take the field against Barcelona on Sunday, the Frenchman is one player who can single-handedly turn the match in his side’s favour. But, whether he can return to his best form remains to be seen.
Barcelona 3-1 Real Betis
Injuries may be troubling Barcelona, with Ernesto Valverde starting run short of options in attack. But, it is worth noting that the hosts will have Lionel Messi returning to the side against Real Betis, with the Argentine wizard transforming the team on his own.
Had Messi been unavailable, Los Verdiblancos might have fancied their chances, especially with the Barcelona defence showing a few deficiencies on the flanks. Nabil Fekir does not seem to have settled in just yet and with Borja Iglesias out injured, Real Betis are not in an ideal position to hurt Valverde’s men much.
We expect Rubi & co. to take the game to the La Liga champions, who should have more than enough in their arsenal to get their first points on the board this season. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Barcelona, with Lionel Messi inspiring the hosts to a comfortable win.