The crisis at FC Barcelona only got deeper on Thursday when the defending La Liga champions traveled to Basque Country to face Athletic Club Bilbao in a Copa del Rey quarterfinal. The Blaugrana had appeared in five straight Spanish Cup finals, winning four straight before losing to Valencia last season. But Athletic Club unceremoniously bounced them from the tournament 1-0 on a stoppage time goal by Iñaki Williams.
The shocking defeat came just days after Barcelona’s six-time Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi, who has long been considered a uniting figure in the club even in times of relative turmoil, publicly lashed out at Sporting Director Eric Abidal, according to CNN. Messi’s criticism came after the firing of manager Ernesto Valverde. In Messi’s view, Abidal accused the Barca players of laziness, which forced the manager’s dismissal.
To replace Valverde, Abidal brought in former Real Betis manager Quique Setién, who returns to Estadio Benito Villamarín for the first time on Sunday. Setién is desperate for a win that would bring some redemption after the midweek Copa del Rey defeat and prevent his side from falling six points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
But on Sunday, Messi — as he so often has this season — will be expected to shoulder his team’s scoring single-handedly, with strike partner Luis Suarez remaining benched with an injury. Big-name summer-signing Antoine Griezmann has failed to fully adapt to Barcelona’s system after coming over from La Liga rivals Atlético Madrid, according to Fansided.
Oddsmakers have, as would be expected, installed Barcelona as favorites over the Seville side, but not overwhelmingly so. At 5/6 to win, according to odds published by The Evening Standard, the defending champions are almost an even-money bet.
Real Betis, on the other hand, have been given 7/2 odds — meaning a bet of $100 would pay a $350 profit if Real Betis manage the upset. Odds of a draw in the match have been set at 3/1.
In addition to the absence of Suarez up front, Barcelona will need to cope with the suspension of defender Gerard Pique at the back. Of course, Betis — with just 30 goals in 20 La Liga matches — do not pose much threat to score, even against a weakened back line. At the same time, the Andalusian team has compiled the fourth-worst defensive record in the Spanish top flight, with 36 goals allowed.
Griezmann is expected to feature in the Barcelona attack on Sunday, in the match which is scheduled to kick off at 9 p.m. in Seville. That start time translates as 3 p.m. EST, noon PST, in the United States, where the Qatar-based BeIn Sports cable network will televise the game.