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Real Betis vs Barcelona, La Liga: Team News, Match Preview

Barça travel to Seville for a brutal away test looking to stay alive in the title race

Unionistas v FC Barcelona - Copa del Rey Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Real Betis Balompié (8th, 31pts) vs FC Barcelona (4th, 41pts)*


*Standings at the time of writing

Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 21

Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Marc-André ter Stegen, Gavi, João Cancelo, Andreas Christensen, Raphinha, Iñigo Martínez, Marcos Alonso (out)

Real Betis Outs & Doubts: Ez Abde, Chadi Riad, Youssouf Sabaly, Guido Rodríguez, William Carvalho, Marc Bartra, Juan Miranda, Claudio Bravo, Ayoze Pérez, Aitor Ruibal (out)

Date/Time: Sunday, January 21, 2024, 6.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 5.30pm GMT (UK), 12.30pm ET, 9.30am PT (USA), 11pm IST (India)

Venue: Estadio Benito Villamarín, Seville, Spain

Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano

VAR: Carlos Del Cerro Grande

How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Viaplay Xtra (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar (Spain), others

How to watch online: ESPN+ (USA), LaLigaTV (UK), Movistar+ (Spain), others


Following a successful Copa del Rey trip to Unionistas de Salamanca in midweek, Barcelona return to action for a big La Liga match as the defending champions travel to beautiful Seville to face Real Betis at the Benito Villamarín on Sunday evening.

The Blaugrana come into this one still not in great form but having showed some signs of life in the second half of their Cup tie, with a little more juice and purpose to their attack and more intensity and security to their defense. Yes, it was against a third tier team, but Barça struggled a lot more against a fourth tier side in the previous round so their win on Thursday has to be considered progress.

Xavi Hernández and his troops still don’t look ready to compete against top tier teams, however, and they’re running out of time to figure themselves out before the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Napoli. There’s also a monster Copa del Rey quarter-final away to Athletic Bilbao next week, and Ernesto Valverde’s side will go into that game as the clear favorites given their sensational form.

Barça have no choice but to try to win the next game in front of them and build on whatever positives they get from that match, and a win away to Real Betis is always a confidence booster. The Verdiblancos are always a brutal test at their home stadium, even though Barça have had a great amount of success in their visits to the Benito Villamarín over the last decade.

Games away at Betis are usually wild, with tons of chances for both sides and wide-open football until Barça somehow find a way to win and escape Seville with three points. Given Barça’s current form and defensive issues that might once again be the case on Sunday, but they have to find a way to play well in order to create and convert enough chances to win.

These teams met once already this season back in September, in what has easily been Barça’s best performance of the season so far. The Catalans won 5-0 and played a truly spectacular game, with free-flowing, creative football in attack and a rarely seen hunger and intensity without the ball. Betis were destroyed from the first whistle until the last, and at that time Barça felt unstoppable.

Things have changed a lot since then, and Betis have managed to right the ship and go back to their well-balanced and competitive brand of football under Manuel Pellegrini. But they’re going through a tough time right now with injuries, and three of their most important players are away with their countries in the African Cup of Nations.

Their best and most important players will be missing this one, but the guys who remain are mostly young and hungry. Young, hungry teams always cause a lot of problems, and they’ll be playing with house money knowing they are not supposed to win and can just go out and have fun with the crowd behind them.

Pellegrini showed Barça a lot of respect in his pre-match press conference and said he’s not preparing for a Barça in crisis, but for a team with a ton of potential and talent to beat anyone, anywhere. The challenge for Barça is to believe in themselves as much as Pellegrini seems to do, and find a way to recapture some of the magic from that glorious night in September to get another big win away to Betis.

Let’s dance.


POSSIBLE LINEUPS

Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Peña; Roberto, Kounde, Araujo, Balde; Gündogan, De Jong; Yamal, Pedri, Ferran; Lewandowski

Real Betis (4-2-3-1): Silva; Bellerín, Pezzella, Sokratis, Abner; Altimira, Roca; Henrique, Isco, Diao; José


PREDICTION

Betis away is always tricky, regardless of Barça’s recent success there. Both teams are not in great form but Betis have a lot of key pieces missing, and that might give Xavi’s team the slight edge in this one: 2-1 to the good guys.

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