Barcelona will be hoping to keep pace with La Liga leaders Real Madrid when they take on Real Betis at Estadio Benito Villamarin on Sunday.

Matchday 23 of the 2019-20 La Liga season will reach its conclusion on Sunday, with the top two of the division in action. Reigning champions Barcelona will be eager to return to winning ways when they make the trip to Estadio Benito Villamarin to lock horns with Real Betis on Sunday night.

Real Betis have blown hot and cold under the tutelage of Rubi, which is best illustrated by their La Liga record so far. Los Verdiblancos have won seven, drawn seven and lost eight matches so far. The hosts, though, have failed to win each of their last three matches and will look to bounce back to winning ways sooner rather than later to avoid getting sucked into the relegation battle.

Barcelona, on the other hand, have struggled to maintain consistency despite a managerial change. The Blaugrana have lost two of the four games that Quique Setien has overseen and more crucially, each of those defeats have come on the road, including one earlier this week when they were booted out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao.

The reverse fixture, played back in August last year at Camp Nou, ended in a 5-2 win for Barcelona, with Nabil Fekir and Loren Moron scoring the inconsequential goals for Real Betis. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Real Betis

Carles Alena could feature against his parent club Barcelona on Sunday. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Carles Alena could feature against his parent club Barcelona on Sunday. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Rubi does not have many pressing injury concerns to contend with ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Sunday, the Real Betis manager will be without just three first-team players due to fitness issues, with Alfonso Pedraza (calf), Andres Guardado (hamstring) and Juanmi (foot) unavailable, while Zouhair Feddal is suspended.

However, there is some good news for the hosts, with William Carvalho passed fit to return for the first time in over four months. The Portuguese midfielder should slot straight back into the starting lineup, replacing Edgar Gonzales at the base of the three-man midfield.

Carvalho should have Sergio Canales and Barcelona loanee Carles Alena for company in the middle of the park. Alena, in particular, will be keen to make an impression on both the managers as he looks to force his way back into the plans of his parent club as well, albeit for next season.

Upfront, the big decision for Rubi will centre around the choice of the striker. Borja Iglesias has been preferred over Loren Moron more often than not lately, but should make way for the 26-year-old on Sunday. Moron will be flanked by Nabil Fekir and Real Betis captain Joaquin.

At the back, Emerson should start on the right side of the Real Betis defence, with Alex Moreno likely to be deployed on the opposite flank. Aissa Mandi and former Barcelona star Marc Bartra should form the central defensive partnership, with Joel Robles taking his place in goal.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Robles; Emerson, Mandi, Bartra, Moreno; Alena, Carvalho, Canales; Fekir, Moron, Joaquin

Betis

Barcelona

Quique Setien continues to be bothered by major issues in attack, with Luis Suarez (knee) and Ousmane Dembele (hamstring) being long-term absentees. Apart from the duo, backup goalkeeper Neto is also on the sidelines, while Gerard Pique is suspended.

In Pique’s absence, Samuel Umtiti is likely to fill in at the heart of the Barcelona defence, with compatriot Clement Lenglet being his partner. Out on the flanks, Jordi Alba and the in-form Nelson Semedo pick themselves as the full-back pairing, while there is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal.

Sergio Busquets is a certainty at the base of the three-man midfield. Frenkie de Jong was used as an auxiliary forward at times against Athletic Bilbao, a role which did not quite bring the best out of him. Against Real Betis, however, Setien should use him in a more traditional no. 8 role. Arturo Vidal should, meanwhile, be the third man in the middle of the park.

Upfront, Setien is down to his bare bones and while Sergi Roberto started in the three-pronged attack last time out, the former Real Betis boss should go ahead with Ansu Fati, Antoine Griezmann and Barcelona captain Lionel Messi in the final third.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Lenglet, Umtiti, Alba; Vidal, Busquets, de Jong; Messi, Griezmann, Fati

Barcelona

Key Stats

  • Real Betis have won only one of their last 17 La Liga games against Barcelona (D3 L13), with that victory coming away from home in a 4-3 success at Camp Nou in November 2018.
  • Barcelona are unbeaten in their last eight La Liga games at Estadio Benito Villamarin against Real Betis (W5 D3), with their last defeat the stadium coming way back in March 2008.
  • Real Betis have won only one of their last six games in La Liga (D3 L2), a 3-0 victory over Real Sociedad last month, after winning the previous three.
  • Barcelona have lost four away games in La Liga this season. The last time the Catalans were beaten five times on the road in a single league campaign was in the 2007-08 season under Frank Rijkaard (6).
  • Both Real Betis and Barcelona have scored a league-high 8 goals in the opening 15 minutes of games this season.

Player to Watch

Lionel Messi

Can Messi get back on track? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Can Messi get back on track? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Often the game changer for Barcelona, Lionel Messi has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week. The Barcelona captain launched a tirade against sporting director Eric Abidal ahead of the Copa del Rey debacle and it is clear that all is not well behind the scenes at Camp Nou.

Messi, though, cannot get bogged down by the negatives too much, especially with Real Madrid unrelenting in their pursuit of the La Liga title. On the road, Barcelona have, many-a-time, been far from their best and it will once again be up to Messi to inspire the defending champions to a much-needed win.

Prediction

Real Betis 1-1 Barcelona

Real Betis are not going through their best run of form at the moment, but have a reasonably strong record at home this season. Considering Barcelona’s struggles away from home, the Verdiblancos should fancy themselves to at least snatch a point, if not more on Sunday.

Barcelona, meanwhile, will be hurting after crashing out of the Copa del Rey earlier this week and will be keen on making a return to winning ways. However, their struggles away from home should continue, albeit in the form of a 1-1 draw.

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