Barcelona will need full points from this match to keep up with the league leaders, Real Madrid, who came back from a goal down to claim an away victory against Mallorca last night. Will the team succeed amidst the intense pressure? What can we expect from the match? Find out what we think after the jump.
There is a lot of despair in the ranks of Barcelona faithful recently. They have managed to criticize every single aspect of the game, including the referee and the team line-up. With the team under immense pressure like this, seeing Pep still have the same confident and classy aura in the press conference last night gives a warm feeling to the heart. No matter what the team will achieve by the end of the season, we know that Pep and Barcelona will never deny credit to any other worthy winners and will not under any circumstance whine about perceived injustices. This team will fight to the very end and we’ll take a hard B to an easy A every day of the week.
The match tonight is in Camp Nou, but we can already feel the focus shifting to the clasico at Bernabeu on Wednesday. For everyone’s sake, one hopes that the players can focus on one task at a time. There is no more room for error in the Liga, so the team really needs to get everything right from this day on. We cannot afford to lower the intensity after scoring the first goal, no more concentration lapses while defending crosses near the finish line. If anyone can do this, it is Pep and the boys and we believe the team will find a solution.
Real Betis is a worthy midtable contender this time around. They’re no pushover as they are the Liga Segunda winners last season and they beat Barca at their stadium in the second leg of the Copa 3-1. Their strength lies in that they are a cohesive unit when attacking, as is shown by their wins at the beginning of the season. Roque Santa Cruz was the perfect striker for them at that time of year. Betis topped the table after winning their opening four games following promotion, but they then went into freefall, picking up just one point from their next 10 games. But recently they picked up wins against Atletico Madrid and Valencia, so they are back at the midtable.
With Maxwell (now a PSG player), Keita and the injured players – Villa, Afellay and Fontas - all unavailable, our squad is incredibly thin. There are only 15 first team players left. Pep smartly decided against purchasing anyone as a panic buy this summer, as they won’t be afforded any adjustment time and need to play well from the get go. In addition, panic buys usually come with a hefty price tag and that doesn’t bode well given Barcelona’s current financial condition. So, players from the Barcelona B will be relied upon in this time of need. Players like Jonathan dos Santos, Montoya and Sergi Roberto will be our back-up plan.
Pep will likely field another 3-4-3 as we’re currently in short supply of experienced defenders while having additional supply of midfielders. When Pep says our priority is the league, that means Pep will play his best eleven for 3-4-3 tonight.
There are some permutations that Pep has never tried before, and tonight might be the night we see Alves play the wide right midfielder as part of a four-man midfield. Cuenca will definitely play as he might not start the clasico, so the front three might be Messi-Cuenca-Cesc. Alexis scored in midweek and he’s really trying hard to adapt to the Barcelona system. Although results might not have come his way yet (other than the incredible equaliser against Madrid), his work rate and effort needs to be appreciated. He’ll be rested to play against Madrid on Wednesday.
In defense, it will be Puyol, Pique, and Mascherano as Abidal will be rested for clasico. In midfield, Xavi, Busquets, and Iniesta will accompany Dani Alves. Thiago, Adriano, and Alexis will probably be the three substitutions made in the second half to preserve some energy of the tired players.
What happened last week was also made possible because there is hardly anyone supporting FC Barcelona as Barca’s supporters are not given tickets to Espanyol’s stadium. Barcelona needed their fans as much as their fans needed them. So, in Camp Nou those kind of blunt performances will not happen. Instead, expect Barcelona to unleash their best in a big win.
Fontas injured his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will need to go under the blade, meanwhile Pedro had a small tear and is expected to be out until Wednesday. Keita is out for Africa Cup of Nations and Maxwell has been transferred to PSG. Iniesta and Alves, rested in midweek, are expected to start again to ensure a victory for Barcelona.
Predicted starting eleven: Valdés – Piqué – Mascherano – Puyol – Dani Alves – Busquets – Xavi – Iniesta – Fàbregas – Messi – Cuenca
Castro and Santa Cruz can give Barcelona a sporadic scare through counter attacks. They’d probably be happy to sit back and apply counter attack even after being 1-0 down, as they are likely to pick Espanyol’s brave performance as a starting point. Instead of playing a defensive formation, they are likely tostick the 4-4-2 formation but play very deep.
Predicted starting XI: Casto(GK) – Ramirez – Mario – Nacho – Isidoro – Iriney – Benat – Montero – Juanma – Santa Cruz – Castro
Barcelona will try their best to silence the critics, and Messi would be glad to score after the assist to Sergi Roberto in midweek. Expect Fàbregas to score again after scoring last week. Betis will try to defend in disciplined approach, but Camp Nou’s bigger pitch will make it a very hard task. Barcelona will probably score another manita but then again Real Betis is not a team to be underestimated.
FC Barcelona 4 – Real Betis 0
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