La Liga Preview: Barcelona - Real Betis
La Liga Preview: Barcelona - Real Betis

Barcelona will be looking for a comfortable Liga outing when it hosts bottom side Betis between Champions League quarterfinal clashes.

Saturday's visit from the strugglers will be a welcome assignment on the back of a punishing 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou during the week.

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 that included victories over title rivals Real Madrid and city neighbors 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 when the Argentine found a predictable match-winner, although his team enters this contest on the back off huge off-field controversy in the form of a 14-month transfer ban.

FIFA punished the Spanish champions for a breach of rules regarding the signing of foreign under-18 players. The club has confirmed it 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 - its 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 it 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 final moments.

"Analyzing 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," coach Gabriel Calderon said.

Barca's current injury woes in defense may give Calderon cause for confidence, 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 defense in Pique's absence.

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