With just seven games remaining, La Liga is hotter than ever and tomorrow the three top teams are all in action on a Super Saturday of football. Leaders Atlético Madrid (76 pts) play first at 4 pm with a home game against Villarreal, this is followed by a Barça (75 pts) versus Betis at Camp Nou at 6 pm, then immediately after at 8 pm Real Madrid (73 pts) face a tough test away at Real Sociedad.
Barça must put the ups and downs of the past week to one side and look to continue the positive recent run in the league. The victories at Real Madrid and Espanyol leave us relying on ourselves to take the title and we even have the luxury of being able to draw one game as long as we beat Atlético in the final game at Camp Nou. However, given our inability to beat Simeone’s team in four previous meetings this season we would do well to try and arrive to the final day above our opponents in the table.
Tata Martino has named a squad of 19 players for the Betis game including Carles Puyol who has yet to receive medical clearance to play. Valdés and Piqué are of course both out injured while Jordi Alba is suspended. Pinto and Bartra will continue to deputise in goal and central defence while Adriano is expected to replace Alba. In today’s training session to prepare for the game Martino left both Neymar and Fabregas out of a theoretical starting XI, presumably to save the pair for the Champions League return leg with Atlético. This would mean Barça line up tomorrow with Pinto, Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi and Pedro.
Opponents Betis need a miracle if they are to escape relegation. Sitting bottom of the table, eight points below the next team, only an amazing change in fortune can save them now. However, it is not unheard of for a team to react positively when all seems lost and Betis have shown recent signs of improvement, especially on their travels and they are currently on an unbeaten run away from home (two wins and three draws) in La Liga and the Europa League. The signing in January of Gabriel Caldéron, who became Betis’s third coach this season after Pepe Mel and Juan Carlos Garrido, seems to have restored some belief in the team but they have a long way to go to avoid the drop. Betis are without the injured Matilla and Verdú, and Calderón has named a list of 20 players for the trip to Barcelona. Betis led twice in the corresponding fixture last season only for Barça to run out 4-2 winners thanks to goals from Alexis, David Villa and a brace from Messi.
The referendum on the new Camp Nou and Espai Barça also takes place tomorrow with voting starting at 9 am and closing an hour after the game at 9 pm. You can read my opinion on the referendum here.
Barça 19-man squad list: Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Iniesta, Alexis, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Betis 20-man squad list: Adán, Sara, Pedro, Chica, Juanfran, Amaya, Jordi Figueras, Paulao, Jesús Muñoz, Juan Carlos, Lolo Reyes, N’Diaye, Nono, Dani Ceballos, Vadillo, Cedrick, Jorge Molina, Braian Rodríguez, Leo Baptistao, Rubén Castro.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.
Betis: Adan; Amaya, Paulao, Jordi, Chica; Juanfran, Reyes, Ndiaye, Juan Carlos; Raul Castro, Molina.
Prediction: Barça 5 Betis 1
Date: Saturday 5 April 2014. Kick-off 6 pm local time