A trip South to Sevilla to face Real Betis Balompié is next on the agenda for FC Barcelona. Before the rise of the Sevilla team cultivated by Joaquín Caparrós and taken to success by Juande Ramos, Real Betis were always at least on par with Sevilla FC and were the power team in Sevilla (Seville), particularly during the mid 90s. They were relegated in 2008/9 but returned immediately and have reacclimatized nicely. The season thus far is going fantastically for the men in green and white, with 25 points from 8 wins, 1 draw, and 5 defeats leaving them in 4th place, 4 behind Real Madrid and 6 above their city rivals. They usually draw strength from the fanatic home crowd and playing at the Manuel Ruiz de Lopera stadium has recently not been a fruitful experience for Barça.
I used “usually” just above because this year Betis’s home form has been erratic, and they have in fact scored more and earned more points on their travels. For example, this season they took the major scalps of Real Madrid and Valencia (both 1-0 victories) but then lost to Rayo and Granada. That 1-0 victory versus Mourinho’s mob was just 2 match days ago, and since then the team is on a 3 game winning streak.
FC Barcelona has not thrived in matches against Betis over the last decade or so. In fact, with an overall win percentage (for FC Barcelona) of 44% dating back to the 2001/2 season, Real Betis has proven more difficult to defeat than Valencia, Sevilla, Atletico, and Madrid. The statistics get much worse when looking only at away games. In the last 9 away matches the record stands at solitary win, 4 draws, and 4 defeats. One thing these matches do serve up however are goals with the last 3 away league encounters finishing with at least 4 (2-2, 2-2, 2-3).
Medically it’s been a positive week for Pepe Mel. Key defensive players Mario, Perquis, and Paulao have been declared fit and are available for selection.
The danger men to watch for tomorrow evening are Beñat and forward Rubén Castro. Beñat really is a terrific player who fits the Barça mold in terms of style and sooner rather than later the big fishes in Europe will be looking for his signature. Castro is the top scorer with 8 goals whose speed could cause issues.
Predicted Starting XI: Adrián; Chica– Amaya – Dorado – Nacho; Cañas – Beñat; Agra – Sevilla – Molina – Castro
Messi will travel with the group of 19 and his playing or not will be a last minute decision. There is also positive medical news with the return of Alves and Alexis. Montoya, Bartra, and Dos Santos will not make the trip.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdés; Alves – Piqué – Mascherano – Alba; Fàbregas – Busquets – Xavi; Iniesta – Villa – Pedro
Full squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Song, Tello.
Clearly there could be different variations to the lineup. The very on form Adriano may get the start over Alves, just returning from injury, and the speed of Puyol could be useful for a team with pace upfront and looking to hit on the break. His involvement midweek however may indicate that Tito was resting his starting duo. And the obvious absentee from the starting 11 is Leo himself, but despite his unbreakable desire to play Vilanova will not start him (and should not) if unfit.
The objective as always will be a win but I fancy that Vilanova wouldn’t be too sulky with a draw. Betis know they have had an advantage at home versus Barça recently and Pepe Mel alluded to that in his press conference Friday. The game should be enjoyable, high paced and with attacking intent from both parties. There should be goals, on both sides, so possibly another scoring draw is on the cards.
Image: David Ramos/Getty Images