Barcelona will look to climb back atop La Liga on Saturday when they welcome bottom-of-the-table Real Betis.
The Catalans enter the match as heavy favorites. They're smarting from their 1-1 Champions League draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, and they know that dropping any more points could mean falling even further behind Atletico in the table and possibly getting supplanted by Real Madrid for second place.
Betis, meanwhile, are eight points behind 19th-place Real Valladolid and look a lock for the drop. They've been struggling all season, and despite two wins and a draw in their last five matches, they're still anchored in last place.
Barcelona should cruise in this match, but crazier things have happened in Spain.
Speaking ahead of the fixture, Barca manager Gerardo Martino said that his players aren't taking anything for granted, per AS:
Yes, we shouldn't fixate on Betis' situation. You can see the defeat against Málaga harmed them, but they have top players who play with heart. They're fighting for survival and we must understand we will play against a hurt side that will try and get back to normal against us.
Focus shouldn't be an issue for Barcelona's stars at this critical stage of the season.
When: Saturday, April 5, at 12 p.m. ET/5 p.m. BST
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona
Watch: beIN Sports (US); Sky Sports 3 (UK)
Odds (via Bloomberg Sports): Barcelona (82.2 percent), Real Betis (6.2 percent), Draw (11.5 percent)
Key Storyline: Will Gerard Pique's Injury Cost Barca Points?
In Barcelona's draw with Atletico in midweek, centre-back Gerard Pique suffered a hip fracture. According to BBC Sport, the 27-year-old will be out for four weeks.
That's a hammer blow to the Catalans' back four.
After his form dipped for parts of last season, Pique has regained the consistency this year that makes him one of the best centre-backs in the world. WhoScored.com lists him as the highest-rated defender in La Liga (7.51).
Considering the relatively short nature of Barcelona's defence, having Pique and his 5.5 clearances a game has often proven vital against teams who opted to attack Barca directly with long balls over the top.
What also makes Pique's injury worse is that Carles Puyol is himself battling a race against time to be fit. Although Puyol's been named in Gerardo Martino's matchday squad, he's unable to start, and there's doubt as to whether he'll actually be able to play at all.
That leaves Marc Bartra as the club's lone natural centre-back. Although the 23-year-old clearly shows a lot of promise, he's only appeared in 27 first-division matches in his career, so he's yet to be a major part of the first team when it's pushing for a league title.
You don't expect his relative inexperience to become an issue, especially against Real Betis, but you also wouldn't be surprised if he makes a critical mistake that gifts the opposition a goal.
Throw in Pinto at goalkeeper and you could have a toxic combination for Barcelona.
Prediction: Barcelona 3, Real Betis 1
In their 31 league matches this season, Betis have conceded 61 goals. Predicting Barcelona to get on the scoresheet is a pretty safe assumption. The question is how many goals they'll score.
The last time these clubs played one another, Barcelona walked away with a 4-1 win. Victor Valdes' performance in goal helped to cover up what was a somewhat poor performance from the Catalans.
Betis had five shots on target and 43 percent of possession, according to WhoScored.com, which seems a bit high given the incredibly high standards Barcelona have set for themselves.
As Spanish football journalist Phil Kitromilides wrote on Goal, given Barca's defensive problems at the moment, predicting a goal for Betis doesn't seem too crazy:
With Gerard Pique joining Carles Puyol on the sidelines, Barcelona have only one recognised centre-back available in Marc Bartra and the youngster will partner Javier Mascherano in the heart of the defense in front of second choice goalkeeper Jose Pinto.
The blaugrana backline therefore will have a decidedly makeshift feel to it, and though Betis are struggling it may well be worth investing in them to get on the scoresheet.
That goal will be their lone enjoyment from this match, though, as the Catalans will be in firm control throughout.
Lionel Messi didn't have a very good showing in the first meeting, so you wouldn't expect lightning to strike twice. Playing in the Camp Nou should also help Barcelona to get into a comfort zone early and squeeze the life out of Betis as the match goes on.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!