Four matches into the domestic campaign, neither Betis nor Barça have been able to reproduce the dazzling form that set Spain alight last term. There is particular concern for the champions, who seem to have lost some of the motivation that spurred them to 25 league wins last time around. So far they have won just once.
In the league, Betis are on a par with the Catalan side - one win, two draws and one defeat, but the clubs have contrasting problems. Barça coach Rijkaard is preoccupied by his defence, while his opposite number - and Nou Camp predecessor - Llorenç Serra Ferrer, faces an injury crisis in attack. It is no secret where Betis's problems lie, the Seville team having scored just twice in the Primera División.
Part of the problem has been the absence of left-winger Edu, who enjoyed an almost telepathic understanding with target man Ricardo Oliveira last season. A sprained knee ligament has kept the Brazilian out for almost a fortnight but the club are confident he, along with left-back Luis Fernández, will return at the end of next week. Striker Dani, who scored twice against Barça in the second leg of last month's Super Cup, remains sidelined with a calf tear.
Oliveira was relieved to get off the mark in Betis's 1-1 midweek draw at RC Deportivo La Coruña, and believes his team-mates can overcome Barça. "It will be a demanding game but we don't fear Barcelona," he said. "We respect every visiting side but we must go out with the aim of collecting three points. Not only would that lift us up the table, it would be a perfect springboard for our match against [RSC] Anderlecht next week."
Serra Ferrer may have to watch from the stands. The 52-year-old is waiting to hear whether he will be suspended after being dismissed against Depor. Xisco Muñoz is back in the squad while goalkeeper Antonio Doblas should retain his place following his impressive showing on Wednesday.
Rijkaard, meanwhile, will make changes. He has opted to leave Ronaldinho out of his 18-man squad, and has also rested Rafael Márquez and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who have groin strains, and Deco, who took a knock at Club Atlético de Madrid last weekend.
Van Bommel start
"It is a decision I have taken for the benefit of the team and the players themselves," the Dutchman said. Summer signing Mark van Bommel could make his first start in a holding midfield role and striker Santiago Ezquerro will get a chance after injury. Rijkaard must choose between Sylvinho and Edmílson at left-back.
"We have lacked the intensity required to win matches, so there is room for improvement," Barça midfielder Andrés Iniesta said. "We have not been able to emulate the results we were getting at this stage last season but we are conscious of our shortcomings in defence and attack. It's something we're working on. Our attitude has always been to go into every game with the aim of winning, now we must continue working hard and not get overly worried."
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