As LaLiga Santander gets ready for its 25th match day, FC Barcelona faces a complicated visit to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán just four days after the goalless draw in Lyon, an unconvincing win against a weakened Real Valladolid in LaLiga and three other consecutive draws prior to that.
Barça now have to face Sevilla FC who only managed just one win in their last eight league matches. The Sevillians also come from a tough defeat against Villarreal (3-0) and are on a mission to go back to winning ways now that Pablo Machin’s job has come under question and the team is in real danger of slipping out of the Champions League spots as both Getafe and Alavés are snapping at their heels just one point behind.
FC Barcelona, on the other hand, have not lost in LaLiga since that 3-4 defeat against Betis back on November 11th, but have only scored one goal in its last three games (Bilbao, Valladolid, and Lyon). However, the Catalan side trust Lionel Messi to maintain his good form against his favorite victim. The Andalucian side is the Spanish team against whom Leo has scored the most goals (32).
Yet, ahead of the matchup in the Pizjuán the FC Barcelona manager, Ernesto Valverde, faces an important dilemma: to rotate or not rotate, and if so…who? The last time he did opt for serious rotations against Sevilla, his team returned to Catalonia with a 2-0 deficit in the first leg of the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. That time El Txugurri also received waves of criticism for leaving Leo Messi and Sergio Busquets at home, while the likes of Luis Suárez and Jordi Alba started on the bench.
Another major component to take into account are Barça’s two consecutive Clasico clashes at the Santiago Bernabéu to face Madrid in the second leg of the cup semifinal and LaLiga. The two meetings are an excellent occasion for Barcelona to stop Los Blancos from fighting for two major titles. A chance they certainly won’t want to waste.
Valverde, therefore, must give way to some fresh legs ahead of this key phase of the season. A task easier said than done since, apart from risking further physical exhaustion that could diminish their remaining performances now crunch time has set, Ernesto has to keep in mind that he can’t count on several players due to injury (Arthur, Rafinha, and Cillesen). Meanwhile, also both Thomas Vermaelen and Samuel Umtiti are not yet at optimal fitness levels according to the Catalan press. In other words, forcing them to play could be a risky move and one not likely to happen.
To top all that off, the Blaugrana squad also have three other key players on the fringe of a one-match suspension in the cases of Clément Lenglet, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal. All three risk missing the Madrid match if they see a yellow card against Sevilla. No doubt a tricky situation for Ernesto Valverde during this crucial stage of a highly demanding season.