Barcelona targeting recovery against Betis after torrid week

Betis desperate for points as opportunities to avoid relegation grow scarce

Gerard Pique of Barcelona celebrates after Lionel Messi scored his team's second goal during the Uefa Champions League round of 16 second leg against AC Milan at the Camp Nou Stadium on March 12, 2013, in Barcelona, Spain. David Ramos / Getty Images
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Barcelona will be hoping the visit of relegation-haunted Real Betis will provide some relief following another week of body blows for the Spanish champions.

Barcelona saw their Uefa Champions League hopes take a major hit after being held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid in the home leg of their quarter-final tie.

To add injury to insult, in that match key defender Gerard Pique suffered a hairline hip fracture, which will rule him out for a month and see him join first-choice goalkeeper Victor Valdes – the victim of a season-ending knee injury – on the sidelines.

The worst came later for the Catalan giants, however, when they were handed a year-long transfer ban by Fifa for breaching the governing body's rules on the transfer of players under 18 years of age.

Barcelona have announced they will fight the Fifa punishment, but the issue has again seen the club hit the headlines for the wrong reasons following the recent queries on their signing of Neymar.

Those off-field issues, combined with the injury setbacks, are threatening to derail Barcelona’s bid for the treble, but coach Gerardo Martino is determined to keep his players focused on the task in hand – starting with Saturday’s visit of Betis.

The Argentinian, whose side are a point behind Atletico in the league and have a Copa del Rey final clash with Real Madrid coming up this month, said: "It's much easier for the players to focus on the football, because ultimately that is our job. We're aware of what's going on, but our attention is on the game against Betis.

“For a team that has up to 12 games ahead of us and in contention for three competitions, it’s important not to deviate from the objectives we’ve set ourselves.”

Martino is also not taking Betis lightly, even though the Andalusian club look set to be playing Segunda Division football next season.

“The defeat to Malaga damaged them, but they have players who play very well and have heart,” he said.

“They are fighting to save themselves and we need to understand that we’re facing a wounded team who are going to try and recover against us.”

Betis’ heartbreaking 2-1 loss to relegation rivals Malaga last weekend – when they saw a 1-0 lead overturned in the final seven minutes – left them eight points adrift of safety with seven games to go.

The trip to title-chasing Barcelona could hardly have come at a worse time for Betis, and coach Gabriel Calderon admitted that his side were almost in the last-chance saloon when it comes to survival.

“As a maximum we can lose one match, but we must win the rest,” he said. “We need to take it game by game. We know what it means to go to Barcelona and who we are up against, but we’re thinking about winning the game.”

On how his side might do that, having only picked up seven points from a possible 45 on their travels this season, Calderon said: “There’s no formula to guarantee a win. We must defend well and not leave any space.”

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