An intriguing match is taking place in Spain on Sunday as free-scoring Real Betis prepare to host runaway league leaders Barcelona. Lionel Messi and co are nine points clear at the top of the table and still unbeaten, having won 16 and drawn three of their 19 games at the season’s halfway stage. They have banged in 52 goals during that time and Messi and Luis Suarez are on fire, with Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho poised to plug the gap left by Neymar’s departure. They should have plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc on Sunday because Betis have already conceded 36 goals this season. But Betis have been sensational going forwards of late: in their last two games, they beat Sevilla 5-3 and Leganes 3-2. If this one goes to form we should be in for one of the most exciting games of the year.
Betis were only promoted to the top flight in 2015 and finished 15th last season, but they are currently sitting pretty in eighth place, just five points behind Real Madrid. They have come on leaps and bounds this season and that is largely down to the sensational form of 21-year-old midfielder Fabian Ruiz. He has been one of the stars of the season and curled in a magnificent strike to open the scoring for Real Betis as they secured that brilliant 5-3 win over Sevilla. He is tall, strong and supremely comfortable on the ball, with a ferocious left foot. Barcelona fans have dubbed him the next Sergio Busquets and are desperate for their team to sign him, but they face competition from Real Madrid, and from teams like Tottenham and Roma, where he might get more time on the pitch.
Fabian looks like a superstar of the future, but Betis also have dangerous forwards in Antonio Sanabria, Sergio Leon, veteran captain Joaquin and former Barcelona wunderkind Cristian Tello. That makes them a pretty daunting prospect going forwards, with Fabian setting them on their way with metronomic passing, and they will cause trouble for Barca’s defence.
Barcelona to win to nil is a bet that has paid off many times this season, as Ernesto Valverde has really tightened up their defence since taking over as manager in the summer, but they conceded twice against Real Sociedad last weekend. It did not matter as Messi and Suarez fired them to a 4-2 win and they preserved their healthy lead at the top of the table. But it showed that their defence can be vulnerable if a team takes risks and commits men forward – and that is something Betis are likely to do. The Andalusians have scored eight and conceded five in their last two games in pursuit of victory, and nothing suggests they will alter their approach for the visit of Barcelona.
But that is a risky game against Messi and Suarez. Barcelona have the league’s best away record, winning eight of 10 and scoring 23 goals in the process. Betis have conceded 36 goals this season, almost two per game, and they are likely to be overwhelmed by Barcelona’s world-class strikeforce. Since Betis were promoted, Barcelona have beaten them four times and drawn once in five meetings, scoring three goals per game on average. Barcelona should win this one, but they are likely to concede, so Barca to win and both teams to score looks like a good bet with football betting odds at 13/10 with Bet Stars and 5/4 with William Hill. You might want to put a small stake on Barcelona to win to nil (15/8 with Bet Victor) just to cover your back, but a team that scored eight in their last two games should be good for at least one against the league leaders.