Best odds: 29/10
One of the standout fixtures in the latest round of La Liga matches unfolds in Seville on Sunday evening as Real Betis play host to Barcelona in what promises to be a captivating encounter.
Presently occupying the seventh spot in the La Liga standings, Betis have accumulated 31 points from their initial 20 matches this season. Meanwhile, Barcelona finds themselves in fourth place, trailing league surprise leaders Girona by eight points but with a game in hand, with arch-rivals Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao also ahead.
Betis head into this weekend’s match on the back of a significant 1-0 triumph against Granada in La Liga last week, with Isco scoring the solitary goal in the 76th minute. This victory marked their first in Spain’s top flight since the conclusion of November, as the team had been involved in several draws in recent weeks. Despite this, Manuel Pellegrini’s squad has proven challenging to defeat, experiencing just one loss in their last 15 league matches, dating back to mid-September.
Betis, along with Mallorca, have been one of the draw specialists in La Liga this season, sharing points in 10 out of their 20 matches. They have secured seven victories and suffered only three defeats. Presently situated in seventh place in the table, they trail sixth-placed Real Sociedad by one point and are 10 points behind fourth-placed Barcelona before their clash in Seville on Sunday.
Notably, Betis remain undefeated at home in the league this season, winning six and drawing four of their 10 matches in front of their home crowd. Now they face the challenge of hosting Barcelona, who are also unbeaten away from home in Spain’s top flight this season, adding an extra layer of intrigue to this upcoming contest.
Betis will face several absences in their upcoming match, with Aitor Ruibal, Ayoze Perez, and Hector Bellerin ruled out due to injuries. Juan Miranda, Guido Rodriguez, Claudio Bravo, and Marc Bartra are all doubtful for the game. The squad is further stretched with Chadi Riad, Youssouf Sabaly, and Abde Ezzalzouli unavailable due to their participation in the Africa Cup of Nations.
In response to the injuries suffered by Perez and Ruibal in the recent 1-0 victory over Granada, Assane Diao and Pablo Busto are expected to secure starting positions. Willian Jose will continue to lead the attack, and the defensive absences may lead to another start for the experienced 35-year-old Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Following a tough-to-take 4-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final last weekend, Barcelona head coach Xavi asserted that he still enjoys the full support of the dressing room at the club. Under significant pressure to bounce back, Barcelona faced third-tier side Unionistas in the Copa del Rey last-16 tie on Thursday. Despite falling behind in the 31st minute, they secured a 3-1 victory with goals from Ferran Torres, Jules Kounde, and Alejandro Balde.
Barcelona’s last La Liga action was a 2-1 win over Las Palmas on January 4, placing them fourth in the table with 41 points, level with third-placed Athletic Bilbao and eight points behind leaders Girona, who have played an additional game. Despite the strong form of Girona and Athletic, Barcelona still see second-place Real Madrid as their primary title rivals this season. Carlo Ancelotti’s side holds a seven-point advantage over Barcelona, having played the same number of matches, a considerable gap at this stage of the campaign.
In recent history, Barcelona have dominated their league encounters against Betis, winning their last four games, including a 5-0 triumph earlier this season. The corresponding fixture last season ended in a 2-1 victory for Barcelona.
Lamine Yamal and Ronald Araujo are set to make their returns to the squad after serving suspensions in the Copa del Rey match against Unionistas. However, Barcelona continues to be without the services of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Joao Cancelo, Marcos Alonso, Inigo Martinez, Gavi, and Raphinha due to ongoing injury issues.
For the upcoming match, there will be adjustments from the Copa del Rey lineup, with Ilkay Gundogan, Robert Lewandowski, and Pedri expected to return. Yamal could be rewarded with a spot on the right side. Ferran Torres, who found the net against Unionistas, is likely to get the nod over Joao Felix, who is currently struggling to make an impact.
Although Andreas Christensen had to be substituted against Unionistas due to a knock, the Denmark international is expected to be fit for the upcoming game.
Considering the absence of key players for both Real Betis and Barcelona in the upcoming match, predicting a clear winner becomes challenging. While the Catalan outfit is also dealing with notable player shortages, it’s rather difficult to back them with high confidence in a game like this. As a result, the five-time European champions settling for a low-scoring draw in Seville this time seems to be a prudent prediction.
Best odds: 29/10