Barcelona hoping for joy within gloomy week

Barcelona will be hoping the visit of relegation-haunted Real Betis on Saturday will provide some relief following another week of body blows for the Spanish champions.

Pique unable to hide his disappointment.

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

However, the worst was still to come for the Catalan giants when, on Wednesday, they were handed a year-long transfer ban by FIFA for breaching the governing body's rules on the transfer of players aged under 18.

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 controversy surrounding 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 this weekend'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.

He said: "The defeat to Malaga damaged them, but they have players who play very well and have heart. 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 only seven games to go.

The trip to title-chasing Barcelona could hardly have come at a worse time for Betis, and coach Gabriel Calderon admits his side are 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're 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 added: "There's no formula to guarantee a win. We must defend well and not leave any space."



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