Last season, Barça’s ultimate Liga game was away to Betis. With the Liga lost, it mattered little, except to the hosts. VV started instead of an injured Pinto; Afellay started his first game since his injury; Busquets scored; Alves was sent off; 2 goals to Betis and then Keita scored to level at 2-2.
We were left wondering if VV had retained his Zamora. Luckily he had, and VV went on to win his record 5th Zamora Trophy.
The Benito Villamarin Stadium has not been kind to the Blaugrana: in their last 13 appearances there, Barça has only won once. Yup – you read that right – just once, in the last 13 games. The last 7 years facing the Béticos in Seville has resulted in just one win in 2005/06 when Barcelona won 1-4. In the total 47 games played away, Barça has won 18; drawn 13 and lost 16.
If Barça has a nemesis in La Liga, then I would count Real Betis Balompié as being that team. Who can forget the CdR games in January 2011, when Barcelona beat Betis 5-0 at Camp Nou, only for the return match to go to the wire when Betis roared ahead and finished 3-1 – almost staging an incredible comeback. Those thinking of an easy game tomorrow should reassess their expectations.
The Betis Manager
If you know Pepe Mel, then you may wonder what’s different about him this season, as he paces the sidelines during the game. He no longer wears glasses. It took us a while to figure out what had changed. Just thought that you may like to know that.
After being sacked from Rayo Vallecano in February 2010, Mel signed on to manage Betis for the 2010/11 season when they played in Liga Adelante. The team was hugely successful and immediately won promotion back to the Liga Primera for 2011/12. They managed to stay up for this season which was partly why the home fans were so ecstatically celebrating after the 2-2 draw with Barça at the end of last season.
Pepe Mel is smart. He is known for his “start the game running and hit them hard and fast” tactics which give opposing teams little time to settle – especially when combined with the tumultuous roar of the Betis fans who are incredibly vocal.
In a recent interview given after his team beat Real Madrid, Pepe Mel stated, “The only thing that now obsesses me is FC Barcelona.”
How’s Betis doing?
Don’t expect a soft start in this game – Betis will be taking the game to the Blaugrana, looking for just one little gap in the defence for them to slot the ball home. That’s all they needed to beat Real Madrid – 1-0 – a couple of weeks ago. That solitary goal was scored in the 17th minute, and Betis hung on for the rest of the game to win. They’re not pussies.
Since losing the Seville derby to Sevilla (5-1), the team has been on a winning streak. After downing Real Madrid, they beat Valladolid 3-0 (CdR game), followed by a closer Liga match away against Deportivo which they won 2-3 after Depor had come back to level the score at 2-2.
This weekend, Málaga’s comfortable 4-0 win against Granada has seen them claim 4th position on the La Liga table, equal in points with Betis (25 each), but with a better goal difference. Ahead of them lie Madrid (32), Atlético (34 also with one game less), and Barcelona on 40.
Betis will be wanting these points to keep them in contention for the Champions/Europa Leagues positions.
Who to watch?
After his match-winning goal against Real Madrid, Barça should be wary of Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga – known simply as Beñat because no English or American commentator could ever pronounce those Basque surnames. He has scored 3 goals and given 5 assists in La Liga for the season. The Mid-fielder made his debut for Spain in the recent friendly against Panama where he had an average game, but obviously came back fired up and motivated by the experience.
Rubén Castro is the team’s danger man up front. He has scored 8 goals for Betis this season, sitting 4th on the Pichichi list behind Falcao (11), Cristiano (13) and Messi (20 according to Marca, 21 according to the rest of the world). All 8 goals have come from open-play, and he’s given 1 assist.
If he plays, Striker Jorge Molina is also a tall threat. In 2nd place for Betis with 4 goals scored, he could present an aerial challenge against the Blaugrana defence during set piece play.
22yo Juan Carlos (on loan from Zaragoza) is also a quick Mid-fielder who has given 4 assists for the season.
Costa Rican Joel Campbell may also start, given his impressive current form including a beautiful goal against Deportivo.
A Fleeting Friendship
Betis has experienced recent tragedy with the loss of young centreback Miki Roqué. Born in Barcelona, an 18yo Miki signed to Liverpool in 2005 and spent 4 seasons there, but he was mostly loaned out to other clubs during that time.
In 2009, Miki was bought by Betis to play in the B team, but spent the 2010/11 season alternating between the B and the First teams. It was during this season that Roqué was diagnosed with cancer, and he retired from football to begin treatment at Barcelona’s Dexeus Clinic.
Carles Puyol was born in La Pobla de Segur – a tiny town of just 3,000 inhabitants. Miki’s mother is also from Segur, and it was this commonality which saw Puyol and Roqué form a bond that started when Puyol was visiting Abidal, who was undergoing treatment for his liver cancer in the same clinic.
Puyol paid all the expenses for Miki Roqué’s cancer treatment, and when the Blaugrana captain entered the same hospital for his knee operation, he was able to visit Miki more often and support him during his treatment.
On 28th May 2011, Barça beat Man U at Wembley in the 2011 Champions League Final, and Puyol wore a shirt bearing the message, “Anims Miki” in support of his friend. Just prior to this, he had also given the captain’s armband to Abidal so that he could lift the Champions League Trophy.
Sadly, earlier this year on June 24th, Miki Roqué died. He was 23 years old.
This will be the first visit back to the Betis Stadium since Miki’s death.
The Stadium and Conditions for the Match
The Benito Villamarin Stadium will be rocking for this match. The fans will sing the anthem and chants very loudly, as they always do – the team has one of the most passionate fanbases in La Liga.
Ticket sales have been extremely strong, and the fans have been motivated for the match, with Twitter messages such as this:
The weather is expected to be clear and fine, but cold at 8°C/46°F, with a humidity of 93% and a light wind.
With the exceptions of Cuenca and Abidal, every other player is fit for duty. That’s nearly THE WHOLE DAMN TEAM, people.
Bartra, Alves and Alexis were the latest to receive the green light this week, although Bartra will not be travelling along with Dos Santos and Montoya. Not sure why Monty’s been left behind.
Travelling to Seville will be: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Cesc, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Busquets, Pedro, Alba, Adriano, Song and Tello.
Puyol is apparently carrying a “knock to the knee” and is being closely monitored, while Messi who also suffered a “knock to the knee” during the Benfica game will travel, and his selection will depend on a final decision to be made before the game. We all had knocking knees when Messi went down on Wednesday night – at least, I did.
Wild horses will be needed to drag both Messi and Puyol away from playing, I suppose. Either that, or a very stern Tito Vilanova stamping his foot down and being the boss.
The game starts on Sunday 9th at 9pm CET. Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: Real Betis vs. FC Barcelona