Liga Preview: Barcelona-Real Betis,
Saturday Sunday 3:30pm ET, GolTV
They were first for a bit, having won their first 4 matches. They were looking down from lofty heights and thinking about long-term results. They were living up to the hype from last year when they put in a magnificent second leg against Barça and won handily. They were segunda champions. And then: 1 point out of the next 30 and Real Betis fell all the way to 17th, just barely out of the relegation zone. Manager Pepe Mel was supposedly on the hot seat, the team was barely scoring, and the defense was losing its grip. The next match was against Valencia and they were assured of losing.
An own goal appeared to be extinguishing Betis’ season. Extra time came along and suddenly another and then: Ruben Castro scored, the crowd went wild. A point against Valencia at the death. And then: Ruben Castro scored again, a second goal in extra time and one that was worth 2 additional points and pandemonium in the stands. They’ve gone 3 matches without dropping a point. They’re in 10th and looking like the team from the first few weeks. They beat Atleti at the Calderon and Sporting Gijon at home.
So they’re heading to Barcelona now, to play a team that is probably looking to make a strong statement of intent before midweek clasicos. Betis brings along Casto, Fabricio, Juanma, Nacho, Jonathan Pereira, Iriney, Salva Sevilla, Isidoro, Ustaritz, Mario, Dorado, Sergio, Cañas, Jorge Molina, Rubén Castro, Santa Cruz, Matilla, Jefferson Montero.
They play a fairly open and attacking brand of football, which is fun, but hasn’t really paid off with a lot of goals. Only 19 so far this season with Ruben Castro getting 5 of them and Roque Santa Cruz 4. The defense has allowed just 22 goals, however, which is not particularly bad. Barcelona, however, are not your typical team and Betis aren’t particularly good against higher ranked teams.
Barça haven’t allowed a goal at home this year while they’ve scored 39 and are 8W-1D-0L compared to Betis’ 3W-0D-6L away from home. That suggests a pretty high likelihood of a home win, but crazier things have certainly happened. Seydou Keita is now missing for Barça thanks to African Cup of Nations duty. Pedro and Andreu Fontas are also injured, which means that, coupled with Ibi and Villa’s absences, only 15 1st teamers are available. B-teamers Cuenca, Montoya, Sergi Roberto, and Jonathan Dos Santos all trained with the first team and are likely to be included in the final squad list.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi, Cuenca.
I have no particulary rationale behind that lineup other than it is 11 players and resting Puyol for the midweek game is perhaps something Guardiola will do. Otherwise, I have no idea because it depends on whether or not Abidal gets rested in favor of Adriano or not. We’ll have to see. Either way, Official Prediction: 3-0. No goals are allowed in the Camp Nou.
It’s extremely important to get this win as Madrid has already moved back up by 8 points thanks to their come-from-behind victory over Mallorca. No more points can be handed to them if the league is to be won. And winning the league is the point of the season. It’s not the Champions League and it’s not the Copa and it’s not the Club World Cup. It’s La Liga. And these matches are what matter in the long run. Every point is worth the same and now is when we prove our worthiness. So, now we have to do it. Doing it with a clean sheet just makes it seem better, more convincing.
Apologies for the short preview, but these Sunday games are extremely hard to find time for. We’ll have a review for you and then it’s Clasico Week again and I’ll be posting a couple of times before Pep’s Birthday Celebration in the Bernabeu.