Match Preview: FC Barcelona v Sevilla
HARRISON MICHAEL TOLL
Barcelona (CNA).- For the first time since the arrival of spring, FC Barcelona, currently second in the La Liga pecking order, will cast the first stone in this round of matches in an attempt to take over first place ad interim, leaving leaders Real Madrid, who are just two points ahead of Barça and who battle Leganés later in the evening, to play the pressure-packed waiting game this time. But a Blaugrana triumph will be a laborious undertaking, no doubt, as Sevilla, who are no easy pickings, come to the Camp Nou with their minds set on evening the score with Leo Messi and Co. — who came back to beat Sevilla on their home turf, 2–1, back on 6 November The Sevillistas, too, are eager to make up ground in the standings, as they seek a highly coveted direct berth in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Wednesday night’s clash comes less than 72 hours after Barça’s 4–1 victory at Granada on Sunday, meaning the Catalans have completed a grand total of two training sessions — a recovery session on Monday followed by a normal workout on Tuesday — in a race against the clock to prepare for a vital midweek test against a top-tier opponent that will almost certainly have major implications on the final standings when they are etched in stone in late May.
Messi will almost certainly be back after sitting out Sunday’s win due to yellow card accumulation. Likewise, we should witness the return of center-back Gerard Piqué, who was held out of the Granada game to rest up for the stretch run. On the flip side, the midfielder Rafinha is out after injuring his right knee early in Sunday night’s game. Another midfielder, Arda Turan, is sidelined as well after suffering a groin injury while away on international duty with the Turkish national team.
The coaching staff is expected to announce the full squad list on Wednesday morning.
Barça manager Luis Enrique Martínez was his unvarnished, candid self at Tuesday’s pre-game press conference, where he cast aside criticism of Los Blanquirrojos, in light of their recent stumbles, and heaped a pinch or two of flattery upon the Andalusian side. “I think we’re talking about an extraordinary season for them,” he said. “Although it’s true that in the last [Champions League] round against Leicester City, in which they were knocked out, they were close to getting through. They missed two penalty kicks. And they could have gone through to the quarterfinals, just like us.”
Jorge Sampaoli, Sevilla's first-year head coach, employed an optimistic tone at his pre-game news conference, and implored his side to play with "courage and bravery" against "a team that is extremely strong at their home ground."
With both teams just days removed from a two-week international break that saw their top players scatter around the globe to be with their national teams for a mix of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers, any momentum that had been built up has long since dissipated, and is now based essentially on a single round of La Liga fixtures played over the weekend. In Sunday’s Week 29 matches, Barça rolled to the aforementioned nighttime rout in Granada, while earlier in the day, also in Andalusia, Sevilla stumbled to a scoreless draw at home against Sporting. Wednesday’s Week 30 match, a rare midweek league fixture, thus represents a chance for Barça to second Sunday’s fine outing, and gives Sevilla an opportunity to make amends in the wake of a lackluster performance.
On an individual level, the league’s top two goal scorers, Messi (with 25 goals) and Luis Suárez (with 23), will be looking to add to their tallies. Sevilla is an especially attractive opponent for Messi, who has found the net six times in Sevilla’s last four trips to Camp Nou, all Barça victories.
As we said earlier, FC Barcelona beat Sevilla at the Sánchez-Pizjuán back in the fall, when Messi and Luis Suárez turned the tables on an early 1–0 deficit to give Barça a clutch, 2–1 road win.
Playing at Camp Nou, Barça have had their way with Sevilla in recent years. The last time Sevilla left the Catalan capital with a win was in Week 14 of the 2002/2003 season. In the 13 seasons since then, Barça have beaten Sevilla 11 times at Camp Nou, with the other two ending in draws (1–1 in Week 2 of the 2003/04 season and 0–0 in Week 8 of the 2011/2012 season).