BETIS - BARCELONA

Barca, with no margin for error

Luis Enrique’s men travel to Betis looking to defend their slender lead at the top of the table

It’s crunch time for Barcelona. Luis Enrique’s side have to face the last three games of the season head-on, defending a league title they thought was in the bag but which could now come down to the wire. They lead the way heading into the final stretch but, as they are well aware, resurgent chasers often finish the strongest.

The first obstacle is Real Betis, a side with survival all but secure but keen to rebound from last weekend’s derby loss to Sevilla and give their fans something to cheer about. The trip to the Villamarín is a hurdle that Barça should clear cleanly. Stumbling at this stage could be fatal. The blaugrana, who have scored more goals in their last two games than their quality of play would suggest, have no margin for error.

Barcelona arrive in Sevilla today on the back of a weird week. For a team used to playing every few days, having seven full days between matches is unusual. Time to recover, but also time to think. It’s probably not the best time for the defending champions to start overthinking things. Barça are keen to wrap up the league, something they feel should have been done weeks ago.

With his side sat at home watching their closest rivals in the Champions League in midweek, Luis Enrique has been able to rest key players and will today be able to field his strongest XI.

Betis’ concerns, meanwhile, are more emotional than mathematical. With safety virtually guaranteed, they now need to provide their fans with some form of catharsis to ease the suffering they’ve been forced to endure this season. Nothing better than beating a rival to help build bridges.

Barcelona will once again be the last of the title-chasing teams to play. Luis Enrique’s men will kick-off knowing the final scores of Real Madrid-Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid-Rayo Vallecano. And, once again, his side could kick-off the match in third place.

The Barcelona dressing room has been keen to play down the importance of repeating this situation this week, but it’s hard to deny that the players will have one eye on how their rivals have fared. Last week at Riazor, captain Andrés Iniesta was spotted asking the bench how Atleti were getting on at San Mamés.