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FC Barcelona are top of the league with just three games to go. But with Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid hot on their trail, they can’t afford any more setbacks. Next week, Espanyol are at the Camp Nou for the derby, and then they travel to Granada on the final day. But before any of that, there’s a tricky trip to Betis to deal with on Saturday night at 8.30pm CET.
Sandro Ramirez, Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu are all still side-lined through injury. Although the latter was able to train normally on Friday, it looks like we’ll have to wait a little bit longer before the doctors declare him ready for play.
The only to change to the 18-man squad from last week's game against Sporting is the inclusion of Aleix Vidal at the expense of Adriano, while Masip and Douglas miss out for technical reasons.
Defenders Cristiano Piccini and Juan Vargas are both out of action, but otherwise Betis are also able to count on an almost complete squad - and one which includes Martín Montoya, the right-back out on loan from FC Barcelona, as well as former Barça B man Xavi Torres.
Speaking to the media the day before the game, Luis Enrique commented that “our last three games are very tough, but I think the team is in good form … Some people had said the league was already over, I said it wasn't. I was right. And now it’s unlikely the teams chasing us will slip up. After all the pressure, whichever team wins the title will really deserve it.”
His counterpart Juan Merino is desperate to bounce back from last week’s 2-0 defeat in the local derby. “Although there isn’t really any remedy for losing to Sevilla” he laments. “Apart from beating them the next time.”
“It’s not about stopping Barça from winning the league” he adds. “I just hope they don’t because that would mean we have taken points from them.”
Barça’s slump in form, which saw them lose a nine-point lead in La Liga, seems to have been overcome. And in some style. An 8-0 rout of Deportivo and a similar 6-0 demolition of Sporting have sent out a clear message. Barça are back to their best.
Betis, meanwhile, have been getting a mixed bag of results after returning to the top flight last summer. It’s been enough to leave them 13th in the table, mathematically safe from relegation but also way out of contention for a place in Europe.
Barça have beaten Betis in their last five league meetings, including a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou earlier this season with goals from Luis Suárez (2), Leo Messi and another from Westermann in his own net.
Barça haven’t lost a league match at the Benito Villamarín since March 2008. And although they were beaten 3-1 in a Copa del Rey fixture in 2011, Barça travelled with a five-goal head start after storming the first leg at the Camp Nou.
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