FC Barcelona will be looking to record their eighth win in their last nine matches and temporarily claim top spot tomorrow when they welcome high-flying Sevilla FC to the Camp Nou. Typically, this would be one of the matches of the season in La Liga and tomorrow promises to be no exception; Sevilla have been sensational this season under the guidance of Jorge Sampaoli and with rumours swirling that Sampaoli could soon move on to bigger and better things, perhaps as manager of either FC Barcelona or the Argentina national team, he will be hoping to leave a good impression on the Blaugrana board.
Stylistically, Sampaoli seems like a strong candidate for the soon-to-be vacant managerial post. His sides play attacking, expansive football, pressing high up the field and he quite clearly has become well-acquainted with Spanish football given his current successes in his tenure at Sevilla. On the other hand, Barcelona have only recruited one manager direct from a La Liga team in the past 30 years, and Luis Enrique was arguably brought in based on his history with the club as opposed to his experience in La Liga.
The subject of Barcelona’s next manager however can wait for another day; this match provides us with enough talking points as it is, the foremost in my mind being Sevilla’s recent slump. At the start of the season and indeed up until a month ago, this seemed like one of the trickiest ties left on the calendar for Luis Enrique’s side. Sevilla were in form and seemed destined to not only challenge for a UEFA Champions League qualification berth, but perhaps even a place in the top two.
After winning five matches on the bounce from mid-February through to early March, Sevilla have fallen off the pace dramatically. They are without a win in their last five matches in all competitions, crashing out of the UEFA Champions League in rather embarrassing fashion to Leicester City, as well as slipping down to fourth place in La Liga. Having lost the likes of Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro in recent seasons, there simply hasn’t been a like for like replacement this campaign and the team is beginning to suffer as a result.
No player has yet reached double figures for goals in La Liga; meanwhile the top three each have at least one player in double figures, with Barcelona and Atletico each with two. This was no more evident than at the weekend, when Sevilla hosted lowly Sporting Gijon and were held to a goalless draw. Sporting of course played well and Sevilla had their share of misfortune, but these were certainly two points dropped rather than one gained and this missed opportunity is sure to have had an impact on the squad.
Barcelona are back in form, and at the Camp Nou they have been virtually unstoppable. In each of their last four home matches, Barcelona have scored at least four goals and given the style of play that Sampaoli encourages from his players, a similar fate could feasibly await tomorrow.
The end of the season is fast approaching, and as far as Luis Enrique is concerned, business is about to pick up.
The headline headed into tomorrow’s match has to be that Lionel Messi is back after he served a one-match suspension at the weekend. Likewise, Gerard Pique is set to return after being left out for tactical reasons and while Rafinha Alcantara has been ruled out for the next couple of weeks with a knee injury, the Blaugrana squad generally seems to be in quite good shape.
Luis Suarez and Neymar are both finding form at exactly the right time and allowing a rested Messi to re-join them in attack, well that’s a scary proposition. Luis Enrique has also been careful with the fitness and the workload of Andres Iniesta, a move that is sure to pay dividends in the coming weeks. Generally, it is a great time to be a Culé and we can be quietly confident of our side’s chances tomorrow.
In defense, it is possible that Enrique will return to the 3-4-3 that has served him so well in recent weeks as both Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique are both expected to return to the starting line-up, although the injury to Rafinha does leave a space on the right-hand side of midfield. Sergi Roberto seems like a strong candidate to fill that gap, and I suspect that Enrique may experiment with this line-up tomorrow.
Roberto would be paired with the usual midfield of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta, while the Messi-Suarez-Neymar trident would lead the line. Curiously enough, Suarez has grabbed the first Barcelona goal in each the last four matches, so it would be interesting to see if that trend continues tomorrow.
Sergio Escudero returns to the squad after serving a suspension, similar to Messi, in the weekend’s draw with Sporting Gijon, while Gabriel Mercado also returns to the fray after recovering from injury. These returns should strengthen the Sevilla defense, but the concern remains over the attack, particularly as they prepare to face the free-scoring Blaugrana.
Wissam Ben Yedder has scored just one goal in La Liga since the middle of January, while Luciano Vietto is without a goal in 2017. Stefan Jovetic has scored a few important goals since his arrival, but he too is experiencing something of a drought. I have no doubt that Sevilla will be a stubborn opponent and that they will create chances, but at this stage, it seems unlikely they have the firepower to truly challenge for a share of the spoils.
Sevilla FC 1-2 FC Barcelona – 6th November 2016 – La Liga
Despite an opener from Vitolo, Sevilla could not withstand the pressure and ended up falling to the visiting Blaugrana as goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez secured a memorable turnaround.
Barcelona (3-4-3): ter Stegen; Mascherano, Umtiti, Pique; Roberto, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Sevilla (4-1-4-1): Rico; Mariano, Pareja, Lenglet, Escudero; N’Zonzi; Sarabia, Nasri, Vazquez, Vitolo; Ben Yedder
A statement win: 4-1 to the hosts.