With the Ballon d’Or fiesta over we are back to some proper action with the visit of Real Betis to Camp Nou for the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter final. With a possible semi-final against Almeria or Deportivo this seems like a good year to have a crack at winning the Spanish Cup again. Pep Guardiola rested Alves, Xavi and Busquets for the 0-4 victory in La Coruña on Saturday so we can at least expect to see these three players in the starting XI. It is very difficult to predict team selection though I don’t believe the Fifa gala should affect any of the players involved as there is no time difference with Zurich and the flight is a short one, however, there will no doubt be some rotations.
Barça last met Betis in the cup in 1997, when with Bobby Robson as coach we won a thrilling final 3-2 after extra time. Previously to that we met in the quarter final stage in the 1993/94 season when Betis pulled off a shock 0-1 victory against Johan Cruyff’s dream team. In the league, however, we have played Betis plenty of times recently as they were only relegated to the Segunda Division at the end of the 2008/09 season. Despite getting relegated that season and despite it being Pep Guardiola’s first record breaking triple season, the games between the teams were close affairs. A late Eidur Gudjohnsen goal gave us a 3-2 win at Camp Nou while we could only manage a 2-2 at the Benito Villamarin stadium thanks to a brace from Samuel Eto’o.
Betis are looking a good bet to return to the top flight next season as they currently sit top of the second division with 43 points from 19 games. The Barça B team managed a 2-2 at Betis at the start of December thanks to late goals from Nolito and Oriol Romeu, but of course this is no guarantee that it will be easier for the first team. Betis will be no pushover having reached the last eight by beating two other Primera Division teams, Zaragoza and Getafe. Coach Pepe Mel will be without the Cameroonian midfield star Achille Emana, as well as Dorado, Miguel Lopes and Momo and so he has named all 21 available players for the trip.
In recent cup clashes (Athletic this season and Sevilla last season) Pep Guardiola has been forced to play a stronger team for the second leg after a “weaker” team failed to finish things off in the first leg. Perhaps it would be better to play a stronger team from the beginning with an eye on resting players in the return game. Then again, who am I to tell Pep Guardiola what to do? I just hope that we get a comfortable win and that we get another chance to see a bit more of Afellay.
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Puyol, Milito, Maxwell; Xavi, Busquets, Thiago; Pedro, Bojan, Afellay.
Betis: Goitia; Isidoro, Miki Roqué, Belenguer, Nacho; Beñat, Iriney, Juande, Israel; Jorge Molina, Rubén Castro.
My prediction: Barça 2 Betis 0