While fans and the media debate solutions to Barça’s problems following the deflating exit from this season’s Champions League, Tito Vilanova’s men still have the considerable task of clinching this season’s Liga. Five points are needed from the remaining five games starting with the visit of Real Betis to Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Sunday 9 pm). In the unlikely case that second-placed Real Madrid fail to beat Valladolid at the Bernabéu tonight then Barça would be crowned champions with a victory tomorrow.
Reports from this morning’s training session suggest that Leo Messi, Sergio Busquets and Eric Abidal will all be available for selection against Betis though Pedro with gastroenteritis and Valdés with a foot injury are both doubtful. While it is obviously good news if Messi is fit again it is undeniably frustrating at the same time and one can’t help wondering about the management of his recent injury. Of course, it is easy to say from outside and with hindsight, but had he been rested at Celta (after he’d played in midweek for Argentina in Bolivia) or last week at Athletic, he might have arrived in better condition for the games against Bayern.
The squad has undoubtedly arrived mentally, physically and emotionally tired to this crucial stage of the season. Some of this may be down to bad management again, though the blow of losing Vilanova for more than two months obviously took its toll. Up until Tito’s departure to New York the season had been progressing in a more than satisfactory manner. Yes, there were some defensive problems but the team’s record of 25 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats was quite superb. In contrast, since then the record reads 13 wins, 7 draws and 6 defeats. Food for thought indeed.
With players suffering this clear fatigue it would seem wise to bring in some young blood to the team. However, the only B team players training today with the first team were Oier Olazábal and Gerard Deulofeu who have been brought in to cover the probable absence of Valdés and Pedro. If players such as Sergi Roberto and Rafinha are being considered as possible first-teamers for next season then surely they should have another chance to show what they can do at the top level.
Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano are both still recovering from their injuries while Cesc Fabregas, who celebrates his 26th birthday today, is suspended for tomorrow’s game. With this in mind Vilanova could go for a starting XI tomorrow of Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Abidal, Alba, Thiago, Song, Iniesta, Deulofeu, Alexis, and Tello though depending on their physical condition we may see Busquets and Messi in the initial lineup.
Our opponents Betis have slipped out of the race for a Champions League place but they still have a reasonable chance of making it to the Europa League. Coach Pepe Mel is without the suspended Nacho and Cañas while Paulao Santos is injured. Mel is reported to be planning on returning to a 4-3-3 for tomorrow’s game with Nosa or Salva Sevilla coming in to strengthen the midfield while Jorge Molina is expected to start up front with Ruben Castro and Dorlan Pabón. Betis have won seven times on the road in this season’s liga though they have only managed one victory (1-5 at Granada) in their last seven away games. Mel likes to play a high pressing game so we should be guaranteed an entertaining game like last season’s 4-2 Barça victory.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Abidal, Alba; Thiago, Song, Iniesta; Deulofeu, Alexis, Tello.
Betis: Adrian; Chica, Mario, Amaya, Alex Martinez; Ruben Perez, Beñat, Sevilla; Pabón. Molina, Castro.
Prediction: Barça 3 Betis 2
Date: Sunday 5 May 2013. Kick off: 9 pm local time.