Real Betis v Barcelona Preview
Estadio Benito Villamarin, Seville
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Just one goal back of Gerd Muller’s record of 85 in a calendar year, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has travelled to Seville with his teammates despite a bruised knee that threatened to rule him out of Sunday’s match at Real Betis.
BREAKDOWN: All the attention will be on Messi, Sunday, as the 25-year-old Argentine looks to make history and equal, or even surpass, Muller’s record. The Barcelona maestro has scored 84 goals for club and country in 2012 coming into Sunday’s match and will play some part against Real Betis after training with his teammates on Saturday.
Messi, who was carried off on a stretcher after colliding with Benfica goalkeeper Artur on Wednesday, has a bruised knee and may not start against Betis, although he’ll almost certainly come off the bench at the very least.
“If there was even the smallest risk then Messi would not travel with the rest of the team,” remarked Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova in his Saturday press conference. “This means he has recovered and is ready to play. However, we will assess his condition [Sunday] and then decide whether he can play 90 minutes or not.”
Betis, meanwhile, are an impressive fifth in the Primera Division ledger after 14 rounds and are currently holding down one of the Europa League places. They’ve won three on the bounce ahead of Barcelona’s visit—a streak that includes wins over both Real Madrid and city rivals Sevilla.
“We have always played Barcelona as equals,” said Betis manager Pepe Mel in his pre-match press conference.
“Usually we have lost, but we have always done the same. Nothing changes. We will go home knowing we have to be ourselves. Otherwise we would betray ourselves and lose what we have achieved so far.”
ESSENTIALS: Real Betis will be without defender Alex Martinez and winger Sergio Rodriguez for Sunday’s match.
Barcelona have a nearly fully-fit squad ahead of Sunday, with defender Marc Bartra passed fit after overcoming a leg injury. Right-back Dani Alves and forward Alexis Sanchez will also make the trip to Seville.
KEY BATTLE: As is so often the case for a side facing Barcelona, the central midfielders have a vital role to play, whether in harassing and harrying the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta or collapsing in front of the defense as part of a second defensive line. Jose Canas and Salva Sevilla will have to make those judgment calls on Sunday.
FORMATIONS: Mel will deploy a 4-3-3 formation with top-scorer Ruben Castro joined up top by Joel Campbell and Jorge Molina. Assuming Messi is fit to play from the start, Vilanova will go with his 4-3-3 setup with Pedro, Messi and David Villa comprising the forward line.
BETLINE: Real Betis 9/1; Draw 9/2; Barcelona 2/7. Betis have lost just one of their last three matches against Barcelona and have won twice and drawn one of their last three home matches against the Catalans.