FC Barcelona (3rd, 10pts) vs Real Betis Balompié (8th, 7pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Friday
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 5
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Ronald Araujo (out), Andreas Christensen, Ilkay Gündogan (doubt)
Real Betis Outs & Doubts: Nabil Fekir, Andrés Guardado, Claudio Bravo, Aitor Ruibal, William Carvalho, Youssouf Sabaly (out)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 16, 2023, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Sunday)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: José María Sánchez Martínez
VAR: Santiago Jaime Latre
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), Movistar La Liga (Spain), Not Available (Canada), others
Following the longest international break of all time, Barcelona finally return to action as they begin a crucial month with a high-profile La Liga clash against Real Betis at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Saturday Night Fútbol.
The Blaugrana come into this one after an unbeaten start to the season, with 10 points from four games while trying to navigate a chaotic transfer window and plenty of injuries and suspensions. But the dust has settled, no one came back injured from the international window and the season can finally truly start for the defending Spanish champions.
Battling to win their second straight league crown is of course a priority for Barça, but everyone involved with the club knows just how crucial the Champions League is this season. Xavi Hernández has already proven he can take a squad that was poorly coached and underachieving in every way and turn it around to the point where they can dominate domestically, but the coach is yet to prove himself in continental play.
Barça haven’t qualified for the knockout stage with Xavi in charge and were bounced from the Europa League in frustrating-slash-embarrassing fashion in the last two seasons, and with a very accessible group this time around the Blaugrana simply must qualify in first place without any fuss or drama. The opener against Royal Antwerp is just days away, but there is a brutal league test to face before we hear the most beautiful anthem in club football again.
Even though they aren’t quite as breathtaking as they used to be under Manuel Pellegrini, Betis remain one of the best and most competitive teams in La Liga. The attacking flair and the goal-fests have slowly disappeared since the beginning of 2022, but the Verdiblancos have never lost the competitive edge and the defensive organization that Pellegrini always brings to his teams.
They have made a strong start to the season, with just one loss and 8 points from their opening four matches in what was a brutal schedule to kick off the campaign, and with former Spanish international Isco finding his best football again and a whole lot of former Barça players in the squad, the latest being the exciting Ez Abde who was signed on Deadline Day, Betis promise to once again make noise this season.
These two always play very entertaining matches, especially in Catalonia, and Saturday should be no different. Barça’s front players are all in good form, and Betis won’t sit back and park the bus like so many teams do when they visit the Catalans. Barça don’t usually play well in the first game after the international break but know Betis have enough firepower to catch them off guard if the Blaugrana have an off-night, so this one could be wild and might very well be the game of the weekend in Spain.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Kounde, Iñigo, Balde; Gavi, Romeu, De Jong; Yamal, Lewandowski, Ferran
Real Betis (4-2-3-1): Silva; Bellerín, Pezzella, Bartra, Miranda; Rodríguez, Roca; Abde, Isco, Ayoze; José
Barça rarely play well in the first game after the international break, and Betis have made a strong start to the season. I’m nervous about this one, but I have faith in the good guys to find a way: 2-1 Barça.