September 29, 2012; 22:00 hrs CET
Sánchez Pizjuán, Sevilla
Things couldn’t get tougher. Sevilla, Benfica & Real Madrid in a span of 9 days – perhaps, Vilanova’s Barcelona is going to face their toughest test this season. Sevilla haven’t lost a match this season, and yes, they have already played Real Madrid once. Piotr Trochowski scored a stunning goal two minutes into the match and Sevilla kept Ronaldo, Higuain, Ozil, Di Maria from scoring for the rest of the night. Barcelona are surely going to face a tough side – the side with the best defensive record in La Liga this season. With an 8-point lead, Vilanova perhaps will be thanking his lucky stars for this cushion.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Andres Palop has been an absolute monster. Had he not been in the twilight of his career, he could have certainly replaced one of Valdes or Reina in the Spain national team. Such is the influence of the 38-year old custodian, that he is undoubtedly Sevilla’s best player till this part of the season. Sevilla manager Michel is expected to like up a 4-2-3-1, with a lot of focus on a very rough and physical game. In the match against Real Madrid, they showcased exceptional prowess in putting up a defensive display. Whenever they lost the ball, they went for it with aggression and were extremely swift in initiating a counter-attack. The bullish approach of Negredo, coupled with the guile and pace of Jesus Navas, can be quite a handful for the almost non-existent Catalan defence.
Michel displayed his tactical prowess by pitting Ivan Rakitic against Xabi Alonso in the game against Real Madrid. Alonso has been the midfield lynch-pin for Madrid and a makes a lot of decisive moves. Rakitic did a great job, partly because of his potential and also his age and stamina, which gave him the edge over an ageing Alonso, thereby forcing the latter not to retain the ball for long and dictate the tempo. It’s no rocket-science to comprehend that the same approached will be employed against Barcelona and Xavi. Moreover, Rakitic’s pace gives him the advantage over Xavi and Xabi and given the ambitious player that he is, it’s not improbable that he will try and exploit the Barca defence along with Negredo and Navas.
The pivot of Medel and Maduro proved useful against Jose Mourinho’s side. The latter played as a screen over defence and at times as the fifth defender, and Medel moved a little to the right to keep a check on the Madrid wingers. Against Barca, Michel might just hand him the Fabregas-job. The move to accommodate Piotr Trochowski on the left of attack worked wonders against Madrid. Trochowski’s tendency to drift in to the centre usually provides an extra man in the centre of the park and gives even lesser space to the opposition. Offering Barcelona space is suicidal and the German midfielder might just not provide that. And even if everything else fails, Palop isn’t likely to. Sevilla and Michel might just have enough in their hands to cause the biggest upset in Spain this weekend.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Palop(GK); Cicinho, Botia, Spahic, Navarro; Maduro, Medel; Navas, Rakitic, Trochowski, Negredo
They have won all their matches in La Liga. However, something, somewhere isn’t quite right. The way Barcelona had to win against Granada and Spartak Moscow can only have fans thank their lucky stars for a 8-point lead over Real Madrid. Under Vilanova, the team plays a vertical and more direct brand of football. The players have started shooting more than they did previously. And the defence have started being more fragile than they previously did! Apparently Barcelona seem to be on a mission to outscore the opposition, rather than keeping a strong fortress at the back. This tactic might work against a few teams but this strategy isn’t going to hold water, come May 2013!
Lionel Messi has been scoring by the bucketloads, but of late there has been a change in his attitude. Not only is he losing his cool over his oppositions, but also over his team-mates. This might just be ominous for Vilanova’s dressing room – as locker room disputes have often translated into on-pitch duels and led to the destruction of many teams and
players. Moreover, Vilanova’s team selection is perhaps as bizarre as it gets. When on one hand we have people like Mourinho and Mancini giving youngsters like Varane and Nastasic respectively a chance to play a crucial game, Vilanova did not even play Bartra against Granada, at home and trusts an untested Alex Song with an equally error-prone Mascherano. If young players are to be promoted, this is perhaps the ideal time, when the team is grinding out results one after another and have a healthy edge on their closest competitor.
Barca midfield might see Busquets, who had been complaining about a back pain, joining Xavi and Fabregas in the midfield. Against Granada Thiago and Cesc had a below-par game and manifested that Xavi Hernandez is still the heartbeat of the Barca midfield. In the away match against Sevilla, Vilanova will not take the chance of resting Xavi. Up front, Leo is likely to pair with Pedro and Alexis. Sevilla has an extremely rough gameplay. In the game against Real Madrid, the hosts racked up more than 30 tackles and almost 67% of them were fouls – it won’t be judicious to start Villa against Sevilla. However, in the later part of the game, the Spanish top-scorer is likely to replace Alexis, who isn’t doing anything great either.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Valdes(GK); Alves, Song, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Pedro
1. Under Guardiola, Barcelona have always won away at the Sánchez Pizjuán
2. Sevilla FC are the Spanish team that have conceded the least amount of goals this year
3. Sevilla have won their last 3 home matches in La Liga
Player To Watch Out For
Andres Palop (Sevilla)
Sensational to say the least. Palop has been as immaculate as they get. His fabulous show against Champions Real Madrid will only boost his confidence to put up an even more resilient show against the best player on the planet – Lionel Messi.
Sevilla 1-2 FC Barcelona
Vilanova’s side will surely be kept at bay for majority of the match, but the individual prowess of Lionel Messi should see them through to the final outcome, giving Vilanova’s team a full 18 out of 18. Nevertheless, a fabulous performance from Palop and Co. could change the course of the game any time. An exciting contest is surely upon us. Brace yourselves!