Barca out to avoid Real Betis upset
Seville, Spain (Sports Network) - Barcelona will put its unbeaten league record to the test on Sunday when it heads to the Benito Villamarin to take on a strong Real Betis side.
Dropping just two points all season, Barcelona comes into the weekend with a six-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid.
The fact that Real Betis sits 15 points behind the Catalans and still occupies fourth place in Spain's top flight is a testament to Tito Vilanova's superb managerial performance this season.
Vilanova has his Barcelona side playing some sublime football, but Sunday's clash with Real Betis should provide a stern test to the club's hopes of staying unbeaten in league play.
Barcelona could be without its leading scorer and talisman Lionel Messi. The Argentine, who has amassed an incredible 21 goals through 14 league games, was removed from the pitch on a stretcher in the club's Champions League tussle with Benfica on Wednesday, but it appears that the injury was not as severe as initially anticipated. His status for Sunday's La Liga contest remains in question.
"When I felt the knock I thought of the worst possible scenario because of the pain, I thought I would miss months of play," said Messi. "After the doctors ruled out a serious injury, I was much more calm about it all.
"I feel good, luckily it was only a knock and I'm feeling much better. I don't know if I'll play on Sunday, it depends on my recovery."
Barcelona certainly has a plethora of attacking options and should be able to compensate for Messi's absence, but Messi is seldom injured, making Sunday's affair un chartered territory for the storied Spanish club.
If Messi is unable to go and Vilanova's men cannot fill the void on the attack, a shocking upset could be in the cards.
Atletico Madrid will be hopeful of picking a victory in the event that Barcelona drops points. Diego Simone's side suffered a disappointing derby defeat to Real Madrid last time out to go six points back of the Catalans, but they will be out to close the gap and put more pressure on Barcelona when they face Deportivo at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, Athletic Bilbao hopes to snap a three-game winless run when it hosts Celta Vigo at San Mames and Levante looks to inch closer to a European spot when it welcomes Mallorca to the Cuitat de Valencia.
Real Madrid, which enters the weekend in third place with 29 points, will hope to stay in the title discussion on Saturday when it heads to the Jose Zorrilla to take on a Valladolid side that has won two straight league matches.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Osasuna hosts Valencia at El Sadar, Malaga welcomes Granada to La Rosaleda, and Getafe heads to the Anoeta to take on Real Sociedad.
On Monday, Rayo Vallecano looks to extend its three-point lead over Real Zaragoza when the two sides meet at the Teresa Rivero, and in Friday's lone La Liga fixture, Alvaro Negredo scored at the death to rescue Sevilla in a 2-2 draw at Espanyol.