La Liga preview: Betis meet Messi-less Barca, Real aim to close gap
The Real Betis defence will likely be buying themselves lottery tickets after the news broke of an injury to Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
Betis play host to La Liga leaders Barcelona on Sunday in the final match of the weekend, and the fourth-placed side will in all likelihood be facing Tito Vilanova's men minus the world's best footballer.
Sitting fourth in the La Liga standings, Betis are enjoying their second season in the Spanish top flight since their relegation in 2009.
A 13th-placed finish last season was probably par for Pepe Mel's men, but now they are preparing to better their club-record fourth-place finishes from the 1996-97 and 2004-05 seasons.
They have strung together three straight victories in all competitions, including a home win over Real Madrid, although Barca have not tasted defeat in the league this season and have only once been held as they sit top by a comfortable six points.
One thing Barcelona haven't done of recent times, though, is perform to their optimum at the Benito Villamarin in Seville - Betis' home - where they have failed to win in their past five visits.
Betis have claimed all three points twice and claimed three draws, with the most recent result seeing Barca salvage a 2-2 draw late in the piece.
Add in the likely omission of Messi with a bruised knee suffered in the Champions League, and Betis will be dreaming of another win to consolidate their already strong position in Spain's top four.
Real Madrid are 11 points behind Barcelona in third spot in the title race, and even trail rivals Atletico Madrid by five points. They will travel to Real Valladolid on Saturday.
Valladolid are unbeaten in their past six at home in all comps, but Jose Mourinho's side will be hoping their attacking prowess can ensure them of a win in the hope it can begin to reel in runaway leaders Barca.
Also in action on Saturday are fifth-placed Malaga, who have a big chance to get back to winning ways as they host the relegation-placed Granada.
Earlier, Real Sociedad will hope to extend their four-game unbeaten streak when they host Getafe, who are flying in sixth spot on the back of three straight wins.
In the late kick-off, Osasuna welcome Valencia - who are coming off a Champions League win away at Lille in midweek.
In other Sunday fixtures, eighth-placed Levante take on Mallorca, who are winless in their past 11 in all competitions.
Atletico will hope to keep up the pressure on Barca when they welcome 19th side Deportivo La Coruna in Madrid, with Athletic Bilbao hosting Celta de Vigo in Basque territory earlier.
In the lone Friday night fixture, bottom side Espanyol will be keen to get something out of the visit of 11th-placed Sevilla, who have lost three of their past four.
Rayo Vallecano host Real Zaragoza in the sole match on Monday.