Barcelona will be aiming to continue consolidating their place atop the La Liga table when they travel to Estadio Benito Villamarin to face Real Betis.
The latest international break is fast approaching. But, before that, the curtains will fall on Matchday 28 of the 2018-19 La Liga season on Sunday, with five matches on show. The final game on the day will see league leaders Barcelona feature, as they take on Real Betis at Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Real Betis have blown hot and cold over the last few months, having failed to win back-to-back leagues games for over three months now. The poor run of results reflects in their standing on the La Liga table as well, with Quique Setien’s men sitting 8th, although they still firmly remain in the hunt for a Top 6 finish owing to the inconsistent nature of the entire division.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have been building up their lead at the summit of La Liga since the turn of the year, with neither Atletico Madrid nor Real Madrid managing to put sustained pressure on them. In fact, the Blaugrana were last beaten in the league by their hosts on Sunday.
As iterated earlier, Real Betis beat Barcelona 4-3 in the reverse fixture, back in November at Camp Nou, remarkably never losing their lead after the 20th minute. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Quique Setien does not have many first-team players unavailable ahead of the visit of Barcelona. But, the three players who miss out for the hosts are all wing-backs, meaning the Real Betis boss has a major crisis on his hands ahead of Sunday’s encounter.
The three absentees are Junior Firpo (thigh), Antonio Barragan (foot) and Francis Guerrero (ankle), leaving Setien with January signing Emerson as the only wing-back at his disposal. But, the Brazilian, who joined Betis on loan after completing a move to Barcelona, is unlikely to start, with the manager not favouring his inclusion thus far.
In his stead, club captain Joaquin ought to be the right wing-back, with former Barcelona superstar Cristian Tello, who has played as a wing-back previously this season, starting on the opposite flank. At the back, Setien should deploy his preferred three-man defence, with Aissa Mandi, Marc Bartra and Sidnei starting once again.
Pau Lopez has been one of the standout goalkeepers in La Liga this season, and will have a busy game to look forward to on Sunday. Midfield will hold the key for Los Verdiblancos against Barcelona, and William Carvalho will have the unenviable task of screening the defence.
Andres Guardado and Sergio Canales will be the work horses in the middle of the park, with the latter also providing the creative impetus from central areas. Upfront, Loren Moron is likely to return to lead the line for Betis, despite Jese’s goal in the win over Celta Vigo, while Giovani Lo Celso will play off him.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Lopez; Mandi, Bartra, Sidnei; Joaquin, Carvalho, Tello; Canales, Lo Celso; Moron
Ernesto Valverde has a fresh injury concern on his hands ahead of the trip to Estadio Benito Villamarin. Against Real Betis on Sunday, the Barcelona manager is set to be without at least two first-team players due to their respective injuries.
But, it is the absence of Ousmane Dembele that is giving Valverde a major cause for concern. The Frenchman picked up yet another hamstring injury, which is starting to become a frustrating pattern for him, in Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Lyon, despite only coming on as a substitute in the second half.
While Philippe Coutinho did impress against Les Gones, the Brazilian has been rather inconsistent this season. So, the Barcelona boss will have to tread with caution, although Coutinho will continue holding on to his spot in attack. The other two spots in the final third are in no doubt, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez being certain starters.
In midfield. Valverde might make one shuffle, with Arthur being rested so as to not take a chance with his own recent fitness troubles. The Brazilian playmaker should be kept as a backup option, with Arturo Vidal replacing him, while Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are likely to start, with the manager not really fancying resting the ever-present duo.
Two more changes might be in the offing at the back, with only the consistent duo of Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba picking themselves these days. Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet have been rotated relentlessly every since the former returned to action.
In lieu of the same, Umtiti should return to the heart of the Barcelona defence, with Nelson Semedo completing the backline that will provide cover to first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
- Barcelona suffered their first home league defeat in over two years when an inspired Real Betis side pulled off a shock 4-3 win when the two sides last met.
- But, Barcelona have been victorious in nine of their last 11 league meetings with Real Betis and and have not lost on their travels to the Andalusian side since March 2008.
- Luis Suarez (127) will have the chance to become the top scoring Uruguayan in La Liga – Diego Forlan is the current holder of the honour with 128 goals.
- Joaquin has scored five goals for Real Betis against Barcelona in La Liga, more than he has against any other opponents with Los Verdiblancos.
- Barcelona have won more points from losing positions than any other side in the top five European leagues this season (20 points).
Player to Watch
Giovani Lo Celso
He might not have been able to break through as a regular in the PSG first-team setup. But, the move to Real Betis has been just what the Argentine needed to kick-start his senior club footballing career in Europe.
With 35 appearances under his belt this season, it is safe to say that Lo Celso has been one of the most important players for the Beticos, with his tendency to be a constant threat in the final third being particularly eye-catching.
His recent form has been quite strong, and if the PSG loanee can manage to perform at his best, just as he had done at Camp Nou a few months back, chances are Barcelona will have to work extremely hard for all three points. One of the biggest games of his career beckons for young Lo Celso.
Real Betis 1-3 Barcelona
Real Betis may have sprung up a surprise when they last met Barcelona. But, a lot has changed since then. While the Blaugrana continue to be heavily reliant on Lionel Messi, they have become considerably more resilient in defence, with Gerard Pique, in particular, enjoying one of his best ever campaigns.
With the hosts not failing to be consistent in the final third, it is likely that Quique Setien & co. will be in for a long night on Sunday. On the other end, Messi can be expected to continue his all-conquering ways, with Luis Suarez’s improvement in form also being a positive for Barcelona.
The La Liga leaders, however, cannot afford to take Betis lightly and the game ought to be closely contested for large parts. But, the Hard Tackle predicts Barcelona to grab all three points in the end, notching up a 3-1 win at Estadio Benito Villamarin.
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