March,17,2012,7:00 pm GMT
Sevilla play host for Spanish Champions Barcelona and the Catalans simply cannot afford to draw or lose. The Andalucians on the other hand are 7 points from a European spot and will be looking to get their season back on track. Sevilla are one of the few sides that have managed to take points from Barca at home with a nil-nil draw in the previous leg.
Team News and Tactical Brief
With 12 rounds left in the league season, Barcelona have no choice but to win. In fact, for all practical purposes, the league is over since it is close to impossible for Madrid to drop too many points. However, this is football and with Madrid looking at some tough fixtures ahead, the Catalans have to try and keep the 10 point difference.
The big news is that Barcelona have lost Eric Abidal for the rest of the season. The French defender will have a liver transplant in the next few seasons and will definitely miss Euro 2012 according to doctors at the club. This could have an effect on the team, Barcelona could either lose motivation or be better than ever.
Alexis Sanchez who was out because of a muscle injury, might be back in time for the match and will be a huge boost for the European champions. One will have to wait and see if Pep will start the Chilean forward since winger Cristian Tello has been in great form, allowing Alexis to start on the bench.
Having qualified for the next stage of the Champions League and with a break between games this season, Pep Guardiola will be confident to start Puyol. This is more out of necessity since Abidal is out but he won’t risk dropping more points by choosing a weak backline.
Thiago Alcantara, who missed a few games because of pain in the shin bone, is also reported to be close to full fitness. The introduction of the extremely talented youngster will also allow Pep Guardiola to rest Cesc Fabregas. However this depends on who plays as a forward, since if Alexis is on the bench then Cesc is expected to partner Messi and Tello/Cuenca upfront.
Gerard Pique according to the latest reports will not be fined or suspended for his comments on the referees and will be travelling along with the squad.
Probable Starting Lineup(4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Mascherano, Pique, Puyol; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Cesc, Messi, Pedro
The rather big injury risks for the Andalucians are Freddie Kanoute and Jesus Navas. Although both forwards are reportedly close to being fully fit, it isn’t guaranteed yet. Sevilla will need both players to launch a legitimate attack on Barcelona’s backline. It is possible that Navas will play and his pace can cause Barcelona problems.
Goalkeeper Javi Varas produced one of the finest displays of his career against the Catalans in Camp Nou and will expected to do the same. Having almost single handedly stopped the Barcelona juggernaut (including saving a penalty by Lionel Messi), Javi will be hoping for more of the same.
That said, Sevilla have not been in great form after losing to Sporting Gijon, away from home. However, the Sanchez Pizjuan is their home and the crowd could possibly give them the edge required to steal a point.
Sevilla have in general not performed upto expectations this season and a Champions League spot now looks a little over ambitious with the likes of Bilbao, Osasuna, Levante and Malaga above them. Although a draw could take them even with Rayo Vallecano for a bit atleast.
Probable Starting Lineup: (4-1-4-1): Varas; Coke, Spahic, Fazio, Navarro; Medel; Navas, Rakitic, Trochowski, Manu; Negredo
Key Match Facts
- Gerard Pique, according to reports in Spain, will not be fined or suspended for his comments on a referee and could possibly make the squad.
- Sevilla are currently 11th with 33 points.
- Barcelona won their last away match 2-0 with Messi scoring both goals.
- Incidentally, Messi’s 2nd goal last weekend was Barca’s first penalty away from home.
- Lionel Messi has scored 50 goals in all competitions (16 in his last 6 matches).
TheHardTackle’s Player To Watch Out For
Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona)
The forward has been looking better in each game and will surely be looking to score and relieve some pressure for Lionel Messi who has taken up most of the Blaugrana’s scoring responsibilities. Expect the Canary Islander to finally find the back of the net after being hindered by an injury plagued season.
Sevilla 1 – 2 Barcelona
The Blaugrana’s overall quality and great form in recent matches should be enough for them to get a hard fought victory. The match will be reflected by its scoreline, in that, it will be a close game.