Just over a month ago, Sevilla FC contested arguably the greatest UEFA Super Cup ever against FC Barcelona, nearly overturning a four-goal deficit against the UEFA Champions League winners before an extra-time goal from Pedro Rodriguez sealed the victory for the Blaugrana. On that night, Sevilla were disciplined, incisive and determined; yet in the past seven or eight weeks, the Andalusians have lost their way.
Languishing in 16th place in the La Liga standings, this Sevilla side are surprising the rest of Spain for all the wrong reasons, especially with their performances at home. Not too long ago, Sevilla were unbeaten in 14 months at home; a fortnight ago, they lost at the Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan to Celta Vigo. What was once a difficult fixture now looks eminently winnable.
Or, more likely, Sevilla decide to find their form tomorrow and give us one hell of a game. Against Juventus, their attack was virtually non-existent; anyone who follows the ExG statistics will have seen just how little Unai Emery’s side created, but up against the Blaugrana...well, I’m not banking on a clean sheet, even with Claudio Bravo back in the fold.
With Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi sidelined, the Barcelona that take to the field tomorrow will be significantly weaker than the one that won the UEFA Super Cup; the question is, will the likes of Luis Suarez and Neymar be able to step up in their absence and will the Blaugrana to victory?
Lionel Messi is out. Andrés Iniesta is out. Rafinha is out. Adriano is probably injured too, and so is Thomas Vermaelen. Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal still haven’t been registered courtesy of FIFA’s disapproval, so Barça are looking a little light in numbers. Ergo, expect to see Gerard Gumbau and perhaps Sergi Samper in the squad, even if both are unlikely to feature tomorrow.
The good news is that Claudio Bravo is back from injury and expected to reclaim his place between the sticks from Marc-André ter Stegen. The German shot-stopper has improved in the past week or so, but Culés have missed Bravo’s experience and will be praying his return will help fix a defensive record that ranks amongst the worst in the division.
In defense, Sergi Roberto continues to win fans for his performances at right-back, but I would be surprised if he isn’t either demoted to the bench or shifted into a midfield role given Andrés Iniesta’s injury. Oh, and Dani Alves always plays against his former club – that too. In the heart of defense, I would opt for a Gerard Piqué and Marc Bartra pairing, but it really depends what Lucho is planning to do.
Jeremy Mathieu is an obvious option, and so too is Javier Mascherano if you want to test out Sergi Roberto, Munir El Haddadi or Sergi Samper in midfield. Anyway, I think he goes for Mathieu, with Jordi Alba accompanying him on the left in what will be a rather balanced backline.
In midfield, Mascherano could play at pivote again to liberate Sergio Busquets who can take up a more creative and offensive role in Iniesta’s absence. I think that’s going to be the way that Enrique plays this game – with Ivan Rakitić rounding off the Blaugrana presence in the middle of the park.
Then, moving onto the attack it’s clear that both Luis Suarez and Neymar will start in the centre and on the left respectively. In midweek, Sandro Ramirez started on the right and frankly, it didn’t work all that well. Which is understandable, as Sandro doesn’t have a lot of experience playing on that side – but Munir does and the fact that he does like to drift and drop deep will help compensate for Iniesta’s absence too. So, Munir rounds off the attack – and the bulk of the creative burden will therefore fall on Neymar.
Show us what you’ve got Ney.
Who would have thought that a team who lost its star striker -- one of the top scorers in La Liga – and has injury problems in defense would struggle in the early stages of the season. Shocking, I know that Sevilla haven’t quite coped with the loss of Carlos Bacca and with the injury problems of Adil Rami and Nicolas Parejo...
Sarcasm aside, Sevilla are getting better, slowly – and that’s in spite of missing their impressive goalkeeper, Beto. Fernando Llorente is threatening to start scoring and is back from a muscle problem, and so too is Portuguese winger, Vitolo. Yehven Konoplyanka is contributing off the bench and more importantly, there’s no pressure on them tomorrow. They’re not expected to get a result, and sometimes that helps the squad to just focus on playing their own game and consequently put in a better performance.
FC Barcelona 5-4 Sevilla FC – 11th August 2015 – UEFA Super Cup
Thank you, Pedro.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Dani Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Mascherano, Rakitić, Busquets; Munir, Suarez, Neymar
Sevilla (4-2-3-1): Rico; Coke, Andreolli, Kolodziejczak, Tremoulinas; Krychowiak, N’Zonzi; Krohn-Dehli, Iborra, Vitolo; Gameiro
I’m torn between a 1-0 Barça win, and a ridiculous 3-2 Barça win. Or maybe something like a 1-1 draw. Whatever, I did rock-paper-scissors with myself and decided to stick with the 1-0.