After edging Athletic Bilbao, los Beticos are the next test for Barca...
Knock-out football is known for its ability to throw up shock results, so Barcelona will approach their Copa del Rey tie against Betis with a great deal of respect.
The Blaugrana may have been dominant in the league this term, but even one poor performance can spell disaster in the cup, though even these are something of a rarity when it comes to the Camp Nou side. Athletic Bilbao proved extremely stubborn opponents for Barca in the previous round, and the Catalans were ultimately forced to rely on an away goal from defender Eric Abidal to push them through by the narrowest of margins.
It was back to being business as usual at the weekend, though. Faced with a tricky away match against a usually obstinate Deportivo La Coruna side, Barcelona made the Galicians look distinctly second rate by smashing their way to a 4-0 victory, with four different scorers and another irresistible performance from Lionel Messi.
Each new week seems to be a historic one for Barca. Recently the focus has been on the Ballon d’Or, the top three spots of which were all claimed by players from the Blaugrana’s youth academy – the first time a single club has produced all the podium finishers. Messi took the ultimate prize ahead of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, but such is the ethic around the squad, there are unlikely to be any hints of jealousy.
Copa del Rey action means that the big names may take a back seat, but with plenty of talent waiting in the wings, Guardiola’s men are still formidable opponents.
Betis may be a Segunda Division club at present, but they’re making waves back towards the top flight and won’t be fazed by the challenge that Barcelona will present on Wednesday evening.
Four points clear of their nearest rivals at the summit of Spanish football’s second tier, they boast the best scoring record and tightest defensive record at their level. And Betis have shown an ability to step up in the big games, having already eliminated Getafe and Zaragoza from the Copa del Rey this season.
Last week’s win over los Azulones was particularly stirring. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, los Beticos travelled to Madrid with only limited hopes of progress. With the game goalless at half-time, the Andalucians’ prospects looked even bleaker, but a goal from Jorge Molina was complimented by a late brace from Ruben Castro, which helped them to a 3-1 success on the night and put the Sevilla side through 4-3 overall.
Regulars in the top flight – Betis have spent almost two-thirds of their existence amongst the elite – los Verdiblancos can also call upon recent fond memories of the Copa to inspire them ahead of their toughest challenge this season. In 2005, a year in which Barca were embarrassingly defeated by Segunda B side UDA Gramenet, the crown was lifted by Betis for the second time in their existence.
Victory on Wednesday evening would surely better the achievement of June 11, 2005, and would certainly rank as a greater surprise, especially as they could only draw with Barca's B team when they met earlier in the season.
Pep Guardiola's side are in the happy position of having a complete squad, including the best three players in the world, to select from. The Copa del Rey tends to see the coach rotate, however.
After five months out, Jonathan Pereira could return for Wednesday's big match. Achille Emana, the Segunda side's key side, and Dorado continue to miss out, while Salva Sevilla, Roversi and Belenguer will require checks.
Momo and Miguel Lopes are both fine.