Barcelona - Betis: preview, team news and prediction
Barcelona host Betis in the unusual environs of the relegation zone and are without star names with last season's 4-3 loss in the background.
Barcelona host Betis in Camp Nou on Sunday night with the c-word hovering ominously over the venerable stadium, which has witnessed so many nights of magic that the home fans will be praying Ernesto Valverde has brought his best rabbit-pulling equipment in their hour of need.
After last weekend’s defeat at Athletic in San Mamés, Barça are currently in the relegation zone. While only the most fanciful of Real Madrid and Espanyol fans would place money on them staying there all season, there is the very real prospect of another early blow to the champions’ title defence against a Betis side who are only place better off in the standings but at least found the net on the opening weekend.
That Barça struggle without Leo Messi is hardly a state secret. But the state of Barça without their talisman, Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé is something that Betis boss Rubi will be only to eager to discover on Sunday even if he will have to so without his €28m summer signing Borja Iglesias, who is unavailable.
However, Betis pulled off a fine piece of business in the transfer market with the capture of Nabil Fekir and the French World Cup winner will be looking to make his mark in Camp Nou, where his international teammate Antoine Griezmann will be under the microscope.
Griezmann cut a frustrated figure after moving into the middle in the wake of Suárez’s injury in San Mamés and was utterly starved of service. Tasked with leading the line on Sunday, he will be looking to Sergi Roberto and Rafinha to provide the ammunition, which is probably not what he had in mind when he moved from Atlético to Camp Nou. The pressure is on and whereas in the past Griezmann has been largely immune to criticism as the leading player, he is very much the understudy at Barça who needs to ace his lines against Betis as the only senior striker available.
Barcelona call up 16-year-old striker for Betis game
Valverde has so little in reserve up front that he has had to dip into Barça B for 16-year-old Ansu Fati, who could see some pitch time as a wild card if the score line requires it.
As such, Valverde will instruct Ivan Rakitic and Frenkie de Jong to push up and his full backs to do the same, leaving plenty of space for Betis to exploit in behind. Both teams to score is priced at under 2/1 with good reason, not least as Betis’ number one, Joel Robles, is suspended with back-up Dani Martín coming in.
Barça lost just three league games last season – one of them an unforgettable 4-3 Betis victory in Camp Nou, inspired by the evergreen Joaquín, Júnior Firpo - who swapped the Villamrín for the Barça bench during the summer – and Sergio Canales, a guaranteed started alongside Joaquín and Fekir with the task of feeding lone striker Loren.
Barça have not lost back-to-back Liga games since 2015-16. If Monday morning sees the champions propping up the table, the headlines in the Catalan press will be slinging the word "crisis" about with wild abandon.
Barcelona team vs Betis (predicted)
Starting XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, De Jong; Rafinha, Roberto, Griezmann.
Betis team vs Barcelona (predicted)
Starting XI: Martín; Emerson, Mandi, Barta, Pedraza; GUradado, Carvalho; Fekir, Joaquín, Canales; Loren.
Barça vs Betis: Injuries and suspensions
Barça: Neto, Dembélé, Suárez (all injured)
Betis: Robles (suspended), Iglesias (injured).
AS English prediction: Barça 1-2 Betis
It may not match last season’s 4-3, but there’ll be more than both sides managed between them last weekend. Barça may struggle initially but it’s certainly worth testing Martín from the off while the home side’s back line is far from impenetrable and Betis have the attacking players to cause plenty of problems.