As we cross the halfway point of the league season, the key races are coming into focus. Barcelona, for one, have established themselves as the leaders in the race for the La Liga title, an honor they haven’t earned since 2018-19, with a solid five-point lead over Real Madrid. A bit down the table, Real Betis haven’t solidified anything yet, but are right in the thick of a tight race for Spain’s UCL spots; with 31 points in just 18 games played, they’re right up there with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, who have 3 more points with an extra game played. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks as both of these teams look to take a step towards achieving those season-long goals.
Real Betis vs. Barcelona Odds
Even as the home team, Betis are serious underdogs against the league leaders with a moneyline of +380. The draw is set at -290, while Barça are an intriguing -155. For a goalscoring line of 2.5, the over is narrowly favored at -120 while the under is even money, +100.
Real Betis vs. Barcelona Prediction & Pick
The story for Barça in recent weeks has been the suspension of striker Robert Lewandowski, who has been the team’s only consistent goalscorer this season; in each of the three matches for which he was unavailable, the team won 1-0. It’s great to be picking up three points, but a goal per match is not quite sustainable, even with a defense like this one; manager Xavi will surely be glad to have his key performer back in the lineup.
Lewandowski’s return hasn’t come a moment too soon either, with Betis, the third-best goal prevention side in La Liga, looming on the horizon. Boss Manuel Pellegrini has done a solid job building a defense with a group of solid, if not star players, as his side has limited goals without dominating possession. However, in their sole game since the outward transfer of left back Álex Moreno, who still leads all outfield players in La Liga minutes played this season, Betis suffered a loss at the hands of relegation-threatened Espanyol, so they’re in danger of losing a pair in a row as they come up against the top team in the league.
With their downright silly defensive form, and the return of Lewandowski, I actually think Barcelona -155 is a pretty outrageous value for a team this dominant, even on the road. Betis are not an especially strong goalscoring side, and I really don’t see them adding to the tally of three goals scored on Barcelona in the 17 league games they’ve played against teams other than Real Madrid. On a similar note, we are talking about two of the three top defenses in the league, in terms of goals allowed per game, so I’m going to have to jump on this opportunity to go with under 2.5 goals at +100. Lewandowski changes things a bit, but 3-0 is a tough proposition against any good defense, and as I said I do not see Betis getting one in the net.
Barcelona Attack vs. Betis Defense
This one is a key matchup for the total more than the result of the game, but even if Barça’s vaunted defense stands tall, a 0-0 draw is not off of the table, so the reintroduction of Lewandowski is going to have to be seamless. As I’ve alluded to, the Polish legend has been the unquestionable engine of Barça’s attack this year, and his return should be a huge deal. He’s scored 13 league goals, just about 35% of the team’s production, and when you roll in his 4 assists, he’s just below the halfway mark when it comes to contributing to the team’s goals. That being said, there’s other talented players up top for the Blaugrana- although Ousmane Dembélé will not be one of them, as he has sustained yet another injury. Memphis Depay is also out of the picture, as he’s off to Atletico Madrid. Ferran Torres is available, although he’s far from a fan favorite with just 2 goals in 14 La Liga appearances this season. That being said, I’d expect Ansu Fati and Raphina to join Lewandowski in attack; while neither have been particularly prolific this season, both could offer the attacking support Lewa needs to get the attack back on track in his first post-suspension match.
Put simply, Betis have a chance to stay in this game if they can slow down Lewandowski. That task will most likely fall primarily to the centre-backs, one of whom will almost certainly be Germán Pezzella. Other than Moreno, he leads all Betis defensive outfield players in minutes played, and has been a solid, steady presence for the rest of the defense to rally around. He’s most likely going to be joined by either Edgar González, who has picked up most of those minutes throughout the season, but is not in incredible form at this moment. It could also be Luiz Felipe, who has played far fewer minutes this year and played at perhaps at a lower level, but seems to be getting into the swing of things, playing better, and picking up some more minutes. The right fullback will be Senegal standout Youssouf Sabaly, while the other side, Moreno’s former position, is a bit more of a question mark but was most recently filled by the Spanish youngster Juan Miranda, who has played pretty limited minutes this year but has put in some good shifts in those opportunities. Behind them all is goalkeeper Rui Silva, who has had a bit of an up and down campaign but has surely put in some top performances from time to time. This isn’t a superstar defense by any means, but they do allow less than a goal per game- if they’re at their very best, they have every ability to make Barça work hard to score.
The Midfield Battle
With 6 goals allowed in the league, you might look to Barça’s defense as the heart of this side; I’d challenge that notion. Yes, opponents have had a tough time scoring, but a huge part of that is Barça’s (easily) league-leading possession rate of 64.5%; opponents simply haven’t had opportunities in the attacking third. The outstanding midfield, maybe the World’s best, features any three out of the club’s four excellent players who fit the role. Generally, one will be Frenkie de Jong, one of the most quietly outstanding players on Earth; if he were a forward playing at the same level, or simply had a more vibrant personality, he might be regarded as one of the very best players in the World at any position. The versatile Pedri is also usually on the pitch, although it can be on the wing rather than his primary position in the middle. His fellow young, rising star Gavi has also been a mainstay, as well as the legendary, venerable Sergio Busquets, one of the great possession players of all time. Between de Jong and quite literally the starting midfield for the Spain national team, Xavi, a legendary midfielder in his own right, has the ability to mix, match, and sub his way to a World-class midfield on any given matchday.
The Betis midfield isn’t a strength in the way Barça’s is, but they have some quality players in the middle of the park. The most prolific in terms of minutes played, as well as goal contribution, is William Carvalho; interestingly enough, his 2 goals and lone assist tie him for second on the team in the categories of both goalscoring and total contributions. His box to box presence has been vital for this side, far beyond his contributions on the stat sheet. Argentine Guido Rodriguez is also having another really good year, as he’s seen a lot of playing time, serving mostly as a holding midfielder. The third and final spot, more of an attacking role, can be held by any one of Sergio Canales, Rodri- not to be confused with the Man City star- or Nabil Fekir, any of whom could find a way into the lineup either in this spot or in the attack; it’s really anyone’s guess as to who will lineup where, although it’s worth noting that it was Rodri at the CAM last time out. Betis’s midfield will have an extremely tall task against Barcelona this weekend, but if they’re successful, it’ll make everything else that much easier for their teammates.