Avoiding the blame-game for the time being, the main thing learned from the previous few matches is that errors cost games. Defensively, there were three errors committed throughout the second leg against Bayern Munich, and they all resulted in goals. Offensively… there was no end in sight. Pedro had a good shot on goal, in a single unexpected long distance attempt. Dani Alves broke through the box with no one covering him, but then hesitated to finish it, waiting for someone to break into the box, to pass it to. The problem is that the Bayern defense recovered during his wait. The rest of the attempts were either similar or less important.
There are many reasons as to why these displays happened, and there are many theories as to how they can be addressed, but the one sure thing is that regardless of the scoreline against Betis in La Liga, Barça will not claim the title on Sunday night.
Real Madrid had battled to a 4-3 score at the Bernabéu against Valladolid, and so pushes our party to at least next week, if we manage to draw and win our next two games (including Sunday’s Betis game). So how will Barça bounce back after the German hammering?
The likeliest theory is that the blaugrana will go into the match with guns blazing, to take the first of the final two steps to win La Liga. It’s no longer an issue of end of the season fatigue. It’s an issue of salvaging what is left and reminding the footballing world of what had previously been presumed, less than three months ago; that FC Barcelona is a record breaking team.
There have been tactical mistakes, but these were always fixed during the matches prior to Tito’s relapse. The defense has been leaky, but the attacking play and high pressing made up for it with many goals, also prior to Tito’s relapse. However, the younger players didn’t get enough starts and trust, and we paid for it with injuries to the regular starters, and a lack of optimization to the emerging talented generation.
The final part of the season has been anything but optimal; injuries by the bucket load, exhaustion, mental and emotional strain because of recurring health issues. This is the wrong time to make decisions. Come the final day of the season, things should be clearer.
So back to the point; will Barça bounce back against Betis? Yes.
Without reservations, yes.
It’s not because they are a lesser team compared to Bayern – although they are. It’s because the red and blue players who will take to the field on Sunday will be out to claim what should have been theirs already. They have the talent to do it, and with all this storm raging, they have the drive to get it done.
Betis is the 4th most impressive team away from home this season. However, they still have managed to concede more goals than they have managed to score on the road. It’s always encouraging when Barça comes across a defense that is more leaky than its own.
Messi and Busquets have returned to full training, although their medical clearance depends on their performance on Sunday morning. Chances are that Messi will at least make the bench, while Busquets might be benched in any case as to not needlessly aggravate his injury.
Abidal seems to be at 100%, and will probably start against Betis.
Valdés is out of the game, with a return of his left foot problem, which had kept him out of the Catalonia game against Nigeria in January.
Pedro was out of training on Saturday with a stomach virus, so he might not make the squad.
Fàbregas is serving a one match suspension for accumulating five yellow cards.
Predicted Starting XI: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Abidal, Alba; Xavi, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Villa, Tello.
Match squad: Pinto, Oier, Dani Alves, Piqué, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Busquets, Bartra, Jordi Alba, Montoya, Adriano, Abidal, Song, Tello, Deulofeu.
Pepe Mel will tackle this game as one of five remaining finals for Betis, in an attempt to secure passage to next season’s Europa League. To put his best team forward, he’ll need to include their midfield linchpin, Beñat, who has just recovered from a back injury, as well as Igiebor, who is awaiting medical clearance.
Casto, Paulão and Damien Perquis are surely out with injuries, while Nacho and Cañas are serving suspensions.
Eder Vilarchao is back in the squad after three month recovering from a tibia injury.
Predicted Starting XI: Adrián; Chica, Amaya, Mario, Martínez; Pérez, Beñat, Igiebor; Pabón, Castro, Campbell.
Match squad: Adrián, Fabricio, Javier Chica, Mario, Amaya, Álex Martínez, Ángel, Rubén Pérez, Vadillo, Beñat, Pozuelo, Sevilla, Campbell, Juan Carlos, Guillermo Molins, Jorge Molina, Nosa Igiebor, Pabón, Rubén Castro, Nono, Sergio.
Although Barça only managed a draw last weekend against Athletic Bilbao, and even though Betis is better placed in the table than the Basque team, the blaugrana remain likely to emerge victorious, paving the way to sealing the 2012-2013 La Liga title.
Image Credit: Jorge Guerrero / AFP