La Liga Preview: Real Betis v Barcelona
By Football News
Barcelona will look to stretch their unbeaten record in La Liga to 25 matches when they face Real Betis on Sunday.
The league leaders have not lost since a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in March and they are the only side still unbeaten after the opening 12 matches of this season.
Things are not quite so positive for Betis, who are languishing in the bottom three in the table and have not won in five league games.
However, their triumph over Vitoria Guimaraes in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday will give them a boost heading into the clash with Barca.
Chuli's last-minute winner in Portugal lifted a little bit of the pressure on manager Pepe Mel, but recording back-to-back victories will be a tall order.
Betis have not beaten Barca in their last four attempts and the Catalan side have won 20 of the 36 clashes.
That record makes midfielder Xavi confident of going into the international break with another victory.
"It is important to finish well this cycle of seven or eight games between La Liga and the Champions League," he said.
"The balance is positive and I think that we have proven to be excellent in terms of the results, but we can be improved at a collective level. Even so, we are on a good line.
"We are at a good level and we know the demands for Barca."
Carles Puyol and Marc Bartra are expected to start together in central defence for the second time in three league matches as Martino looks to rest Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique struggles with a groin injury.
Jordi Alba continues be unavailable with a hamstring injury, while Jonathan dos Santos and Ibrahim Afellay are still recovering from knee injuries.
Betis' problems are worsened by their injury woes; Mel has eight players unavailable, including Damien Perquis (broken jaw) and Juanfran (hamstring).
However, Paulao and Antonio Amaya both returned to training this week and could be involved, while Javi Chica is back from suspension.