PREVIEW: Real Betis v FC Barcelona
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After a 1-0 win at Girona on Saturday that coupled with Real Madrid's 0-0 draw at home to Real Sociedad means that they are now five points clear at the top of the Liga table, Barça are now off to the Benito Villamarín to take on Real Betis in a game that was originally postponed due to the Spanish Super Cup.
Indeed, Betis was the very team that Barça played in the semi-final of that competition, which they won on penalties following a thrilling 2-2 draw. Now the two teams meet again, and if it's anything like the game in Saudi Arabia, then there's a lot to look forward to.
Last five meetings
12/01/23 (SUPERCOPA) Barça 2 (Lewandowski, Fati) Betis 2 (Barça won on pens)
07/05/22 (LIGA) Betis 1 Barça 2 (Fati, Alba)
04/12/21 (LIGA) Barça 0 Betis 1
07/02/21 (LIGA) Betis 2 Barça 3 (Messi, OG, Trincao)
07/11/20 (LIGA) Barça 5 (Dembélé, Griezmann, Messi 2, Pedri) Betis 2
Betis stunned Barça with a 1-0 victory the last time they were at Spotify Camp Nou, but that was very much an exception to the usual pattern of blaugrana successes. In fact, the Catalans have not lost at the Benito Villamarín since 2011, way back in the Pep Guardiola era when Betis were still in the second division and the two teams met in the Copa del Rey. But despite losing 3-1 in Andalusia, Barça ended up qualifying on the back of a mighty 5-0 win in the second leg.
In fact, a win on Wednesday would make Barça the first team to ever win six consecutive away fixtures at Betis, and they're aiming to do it against a side that has not won any of its last three home matches.
Ousmane Dembélé is out for this one after picking up a thigh injury against Girona. But its not all bad news because both Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres have served their suspensions are available for selection once again.
Betis could have a full squad to choose from, although there are minor question marks over the fitness of Juan Cruz and Borja Iglesias. The home side are particularly boosted by the return from injury of one of their key men, Nabil Fekir, who got a run-out at the weekend and may well start on Wednesday. Familiar faces in the Betis squad include Juan Miranda and Martín Montoya, who came out of the Barça youth system, as well as veteran Claudio Bravo of Chile, Ter Stegen's former rival for the goalkeeper's jersey at Camp Nou.
Betis form guide
Last year's Copa del Rey winning got off to a flying start in La Liga and have spent most of the campaign in the Champions League positions. And although the good results have tailed off a little recently, a 1-0 win at Getafe at the weekend means they are now fifth.
They've also been having a fine run in the Europa League, topping their group ahead of AS Roma and hence going straight into the last 16, being spared the playoff round in which Barça are playing Man United.
After going out of the Spanish Super Cup on penalties to Barça, just a few days later they suffered the same fate against Osasuna in the Copa del Rey.
Did you know?
If Barça win this game by a single goal, it will be the first time ever that the team has strung together four consecutive league wins by such a narrow margin.
Apart from Spotify Camp Nou, the Benito Villamarín is the only other stadium where Sergio Busquets has scored more than one goal.
"The Super Cup game is a good reference because Pellegrini doesn't change his system much. It was hard then and in their stadium it'll be harder still ... I'm more worried about this game than the transfer market, to be honest."
"We don't know about Dembélé. These muscle injuries are difficult to predict. It's a delicate area and every case is different. He's a very difficult player to replace but hopefully the players taking his place will perform and his absence won't show."
"Against Espanyol we were great and we drew, we were weak in attack against Girona but we won. We really should be playing with the kind of intensity that Girona did. What we want to do is always play like we did in the Super Cup Final."
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