Just four days after an awful loss in El Clásico, Barcelona hope to start their league season with a strong performance when they welcome Real Betis to the Camp Nou for the first La Liga match of the new campaign. With the defending champions Real Madrid miles ahead of Barça, it’s hard to imagine the Blaugrana having the strength to catch up with them at the moment.
But the season is long, and Ernesto Valverde will have at least one full year to coach this team and make it good again. Injuries and lack of important signings to replace Neymar (so far) have made Valverde’s job very hard, so he needs time and patience. Things won’t be easy at times, but growing pains are a real thing.
We might already experience some growing pains in the first match: Betis have made some amazing signings and hired Quique Setién as the new manager. Setién turned small Las Palmas into one of the best teams in La Liga over the last two seasons, and taking charge of a historic club like Betis will be a big challenge for him as well. Betis had a fantastic transfer window and their preseason was very solid, and they’ll come to Camp Nou to try and dominate possession and beat Barça playing good football.
This will be a giant test for the Blaugrana, but it could also be a chance to start the season on a high note. The team will be also playing for the City of Barcelona after the horrible terrorist attacks on Thursday, which will add an extra layer of motivation to the players. Hopefully they honor the city and the victims with a win.
After all, even though sports are not bigger than life or death, they can be a source of comfort and happiness in tough times.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Sunday, August 20, 2017, 8:15pm local time, 7:15pm BST (UK), 2:15pm ET, 11:15am PT (USA), 11:45pm IST (India)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia
Television: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), Sky Sports Football (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), Sony TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA & Canada), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (USA, 7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
Barça will be without Luis Suárez for the next month because of a knee injury, and Andrés Iniesta is also missing the next few weeks with a muscle problem. Ernesto Valverde will have to figure out a way to form a good team during the month of August without two key starters, and facing a tough side like Betis will give him an idea of what to correct going forward.
The defense is pretty much set with Marc-André ter Stegen in goal, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba on the left side of the backline and Nélson Semedo earning the starting right-back spot thanks to his great performance against Real Madrid. The only doubt for Sunday is Gerard Piqué, who was subbed off in El Clásico with a knock and might be rested against Betis. If that’s the case, Javier Mascherano will start.
In midfield, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets will play from the start, with Sergi Roberto most likely starting as well. Valverde is leaning towards a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 formation, so we might see Roberto on the right flank with Busquets and Rakitic playing in a double pivot. On the left side, Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu will battle for a start, with Denis probably being picked thanks to his defensive work rate.
Up front, Lionel Messi will start and captain the team alongside Paco Alcácer, who’s the only healthy forward left in the squad now. Yay...
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Mascherano, Umtiti, Alba; Roberto, Rakitic, Busquets, Denis; Messi, Alcácer
Real Betis (4-3-3)
Adán; Barragán, Mandi, Feddal, Durmisi; Javi García, Guardado, Camarasa; Joaquín, Sergio León, Nahuel
It won’t be easy at all to win this, but Barça will do it for the City: 3-1 to the Blaugrana.