La Liga Preview: Barcelona v Real Betis
By Football News
Barcelona will hope for a comfortable Liga outing when they host bottom club Real Betis between UEFA Champions League quarter-final clashes.
Saturday's visit of the strugglers will be a welcome assignment on the back of a punishing 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou in midweek.
Neymar struck 19 minutes from time to peg back Diego's sensational opener and the nip and tuck nature of the contest underlined the likelihood of the battle for the Spanish title going to the wire.
It was the fourth draw between Barca and Liga leaders Atletico this term, meaning Gerardo Martino will be loath to see his team slip up before the eagerly anticipated season finale between the two teams in Catalunya on May 18.
The good news on that front is the wobble that brought consecutive away defeats at Real Sociedad and Real Valladolid as February became March appears to be a thing of the past.
The draw against Atletico ended a run of five wins in all competitions for Barcelona - a sequence including victories over bitter title rivals Real Madrid and city neighbours Espanyol.
Nine goals and two hat-tricks have seen Lionel Messi typically leading the charge during this period.
"With Messi on the pitch the story almost always ends the same way," said Martino after last weekend’s Catalan derby found a predictable match-winner, although his team enter this contest on the back off huge off-field controversy in the form of a 14-month FIFA transfer ban.
World football's governing body punished the Spanish champions for a breach of rules regarding the transfer of foreign under-18 players. The club has confirmed they will appeal.
By contrast, Betis' problems are all unfolding on the other side of the white line.
Rock bottom with 22 points from 30 games - eight shy of safety - their campaign appears destined to end in relegation.
Last time out, Betis suffered a crushing reverse after Lorenzo Reyes' superb opener at home to Malaga had them on course for restorative back-to-back victories.
Juanmi and Sergi Darder struck inside the last seven minutes to put the visitors 2-1 ahead - a sapping turn of events in itself before Ruben Castro passed up the chance to claim a point by thudding a penalty against the crossbar in the dying moments.
"Analysing the game, it's incredible to think we've lost, it's hard to explain. It was like a horror movie. You have to take your chances though," head coach Gabriel Calderon lamented.
Barca's current injury woes in defence may give Calderon cause for comfort, with Gerard Pique joining goalkeeper Victor Valdes on the sidelines after fracturing his hip against Atletico.
Marc Bartra is likely to partner Javier Mascherano in the heart of defence in Pique's absence.