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A preview of tonight's La Liga encounter between table-toppers FC Barcelona and fifth-place Sevilla. Will Barcelona be able to (temporarily) extend their lead over Real Madrid to eleven points ahead of next week's Clasico?
FC Barcelona travel to Andalucía tomorrow evening to face Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan as they look to temporarily extend their lead over Real Madrid to eleven points. The Blaugrana are 100% in league action under new coach Tito Vilanova, but will face a tough test in Sevilla who have been in excellent form thus far this season and sit in fifth place. Will Tito’s side be able to make it six wins from six or will Sevilla be able to top their win over Real Madrid by claiming a share of the spoils?
With Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué sidelined through injury, Barcelona were already looking short at the back and that problem has now intensified with Adriano the latest casualty. On the other hand, with Jordi Alba now back in the squad after suffering from the flu, Barcelona may have lost one quality defender, but have gained another. Aside from that, Tito Vilanova has selected the same squad with Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello the two players called up from the B team.
Victor Valdés will start in goal looking to keep successive clean sheets for the first time since March when he went two matches – against Real Mallorca and AC Milan – without conceding. It’s staggering to think that it’s taken the Blaugrana this long to even be in with a chance at replicating that defensive form, especially given that Valdés won last season’s Zamora and is probably the favourite for this season’s trophy as well.
In defense, Dani Alves should start against his former club although he does face competition for the starting berth from Martin Montoya who was impressive in Barcelona’s last away fixture against Getafe. That being said, with a Clasico in a week and a UEFA Champions League match against Benfica on Tuesday, Alves is likely to start tomorrow with Montoya possibly taking his place on Tuesday. Similarly, I expect Tito Vilanova to keep it the same at centre-half with Alex Song and Javier Mascherano. The pairing played well in last week’s win over Granada, but this is the first real test of their young partnership. With Adriano injured, Jordi Alba is the only option at left-back.
Sergio Busquets is another guaranteed starter, especially with Alex Song preoccupied with centre-half duties. Xavi is another that should start tomorrow and although Andrés Iniesta is ruled out of tomorrow’s match, it is possible that he will make his return on Tuesday and/or could feature at some stage in next week’s Clasico. But for now, Cesc Fàbregas or Thiago Alcântara will fill in Andrés’ place. Sergi Roberto has made the squad and is unlikely to feature, although I wouldn’t rule him out of Tuesday’s game.
On offense, Lionel Messi will start after drawing a blank in last week’s win over Granada, which – coupled with Falcao’s midweek hat-trick – has knocked him out of top spot in the race for the Pichichi. Messi didn’t score against Valencia earlier in the season, but responded with a brace off the bench against Getafe. Will lightning strike twice?
Completing the line-up, Tito is spoilt for choice – does he go for the pace of Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello? Maybe the trickery of David Villa and Pedro? A combination of the two? Personally, I would go with Alexis Sanchez and Pedro, but any combination of the choices available have their pros and cons. Whatever the case, Barcelona should be quietly confident of victory. It’s true, Sevilla did defeat Real Madrid, but so much of that win can be attributed to the fragile mental state of Jose Mourinho’s side – although Michel’s team did perform exceptionally well. Can they maintain such a high level of concentration over 90 minutes for the second time in such a short timeframe? I would say the odds are certainly stacked against them.
With a detailed scouting report to come, here are the basics for tomorrow’s hosts. Michel has called up the same nineteen as he did for last weekend’s trip to Coruña, which they won 2-0 courtesy of two late goals from Alvaro Negredo and Ivan Rakitic. Sevilla haven’t conceded in three matches now, and considering the Blaugrana have won just once in their last three trips to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, this game really could go either way.
Sevilla FC 0-2 FC Barcelona – 17th March 2012 – La Liga
An absolutely magical goal from Lionel Messi (which was later nominated for Best Team Goal in the Barca Blaugranes Awards) and a brilliant free-kick from none other than Xavi secured the win for Pep Guardiola’s side.
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Song, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Thiago; Sanchez, Messi, Pedro
Sevilla FC (4-2-3-1): Palop; Cicinho, Botia, Spahic, Navarro; Medel, Maduro; Trochowski, Rakitic, Jesus Navas; Negredo
It’s going to be close – but I think Barcelona will just edge out a crucial win. 2-1 Barcelona for me