The games keep coming thick and fast for FC Barcelona as they seek to extend their winning streak to six matches with a victory over Real Betis at the Estadio Benito Villamarin tomorrow midday. With a Copa del Rey semi-final encounter against Atletico Madrid to look forward to, there is no respite in sight for the Blaugrana but there is a real belief in Catalunya that Luis Enrique’s side have found their form and are beginning to really build some momentum for the remainder of the campaign.
Star players are finding form; injured talismans are set to return in the coming weeks to further bolster the squad and confidence is at a season high. It barely seems to matter where we are playing, or who we are playing against; whether it’s Real Sociedad at the Anoeta, or perhaps a mid-table side like Las Palmas or Eibar the end result has been the same in recent weeks: a Barcelona win, often in convincing fashion.
Barcelona are undefeated in their last six away fixtures in La Liga and overall they boast the best away record in the division, so while a trip to Seville isn’t exactly the easiest fixture we could have hoped for, there’s no reason why we can’t continue our streak tomorrow.
With Real Betis currently languishing in 14th place, Luis Enrique will know what kind of match to expect tomorrow afternoon. This is a side that perform well at home, but are often shy of goals. Their confidence is low having managed just one win in their last five matches and the last time they welcomed one of the traditional big two to the Benito Villamarin, Real Madrid thrashed them 6-1.
Can the Blaugrana emulate Los Blancos tomorrow and emerge with their sixth successive win, or will the hosts take advantage of the packed fixture list to cause an upset.
At the time of writing, details regarding Luis Enrique’s selection for tomorrow’s match were sparse. There had been no announcement regarding the 18-man squad that would venture south for this match, and as such, no confirmation if either Andres Iniesta or Rafinha Alcantara would be considered fit enough to return to action.
With that in mind, let’s embark on a little bit of guesswork. Influenced by the fixture schedule and the upcoming trip to the Vicente Calderon, I think this will be the match that Luis Enrique will choose to rotate his squad a little more heavily. Nothing dramatic, but by the same token, don’t expect Andres Iniesta to be thrown back into the fray with so many important games coming up.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal, and that’s perhaps one of the only spots that is set in stone tomorrow. Ahead of him, we could easily see Aleix Vidal rotate in at right-back given his recent performances – and perhaps taking that theory one step further, we could even see a return of the 3-4-3 if Enrique was feeling particularly adventurous. Vidal could then feature on the right-flank, with Lucas Digne on the left, and with Javier Mascherano featuring alongside Gerard Pique and Jeremy Mathieu (or Samuel Umtiti).
In theory, this wouldn’t even require Enrique to amend his usual selection; Denis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Andre Gomes would fight it out for the two interior roles, and the entire selection could seamlessly switch between the conventional 4-3-3 and this more unorthodox 3-4-3 as and when it was deemed necessary.
In attack, Lionel Messi will start nominally on the right, and in the absence of Sergio Busquets it has been interesting to see the Argentine drop a little deeper than usual – not into a false nine role, but rather into a midfield role in which he can help his team retain possession and find openings. It’s for this reason that I would be tempted to go with Vidal, and he offers a more natural threat on the overlap. In the remaining two spots, Neymar should continue to start given his return to form, while I once again will predict a start for Paco Alcacer, even if Luis Suarez will probably still be preferred.
With his side perhaps further down the table than he might have liked, Real Betis coach Victor Sanchez has been busy in the transfer market this week, signing two new faces to join the team. Ruben Pardo was signed on loan from Real Sociedad and will bolster the midfield ranks, while Romanian international Alin Tosca was signed from Steaua Bucharest for a fee of €1 million.
Both players go straight into the squad for this one, and they are joined by the returning Aissa Mandi, who is back after a spell on the sidelines. It goes without saying that Ruben Castro still leads the line for Real Betis, and as per usual he is the only player in the squad with more than three goals to his name thus far this season.
Real Betis: WLLWLD
FC Barcelona 6-2 Real Betis – 20th August 2016 – La Liga
The Blaugrana got their season started in style with an emphatic win at the Camp Nou as a hat-trick from Luis Suarez, coupled with a brace for Lionel Messi more than cancelled out Ruben Castro’s two-goal haul.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Vidal, Pique, Mathieu, Digne; Mascherano, Rakitic, Denis; Messi, Alcacer, Neymar
Real Betis (3-5-2): Adan; Pezzella, Donk, Mandi; Piccini, Pardo, Petros, Ceballos, Tosca; Castro, Zozulya
We actually quite like our trips to the Villamarin; this will be no exception. 4-1 to the visitors.