Saturday, November 22, 20:00 CET
Camp Nou, Barcelona
Matchday 12 of La Liga will see two of the competition’s best teams so far – and predicted to be even before the season began – square up at the Camp Nou, with 2nd place FC Barcelona facing Sevilla, who are 5th but only a mere two points behind the Catalans. With Real Madrid’s seemingly ominous, this potentially very tricky match assumes great importance for the blaugrana as any slip-ups might see them lose decisive ground in the title race.
Team News and Tactical Brief
After an irresistible start to the season, everything started unraveling for Barcelona with the loss at the Santiago Bernabeu; it was followed with a shocking 0-1 loss to Celta at home – a result that saw the Catalans relinquish their lead in La Liga – and a thoroughly unconvincing come-from-behind 2-1 win at Almeria. Luis Enrique can only hope that the international break will bring some more inspired form to the squad, with two very tough matches coming up – this weekend against Sevilla and perhaps even more so next weekend at Valencia – and pretty much no margin for error left.
Enrique will likely field Bravo in goal, with a back four of Alba, Mascherano, Bartra and Alves, a midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Rakitic and then the inevitable Suarez, Neymar and Messi threesome up front. Although it’s still not been made official whether Iniesta will recover in time to be given the green light for this match, even if he does he should start on the bench due to lack of match fitness; apart from that, Barcelona will field what most perceive to be the strongest available starting lineup at the moment.
From a strategic point of view, not many surprised are expected; the blaugrana will be looking to dominate through possession and intricate passing from the very first minute, probing for openings in the Sevilla defense. Scoring early will be crucial to shake off the nerves after the recent bad streak of results.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Bravo; Alba, Mascherano, Bartra, Alves; Busquets, Xavi, Rakitic; Neymar, Suarez and Messi
Unai Emery has faced Barcelona 17 times during his stints at Almeria, Valencia, CSKA Moscow and Sevilla, but he never got a single win – 4 draws being the best he ever got -, a tendency he will be looking to put an end to this weekend at Camp Nou, where he lost all his 9 matches to date. Under normal circumstances, the odds would be stacked against him and Sevilla, but with the club’s two main left backs – Tremoulinas and Navarro – both out injured, it’s an even more daunting task. Another thing going against Sevilla is that after a stellar start their momentum took a big hit in the past two matches, with a 1-0 loss at Athletic and 1-1 home draw against Levante.
The current Europa League champions are likely to start with Beto in goal, Cicinho, Carriço, Pareja and Coke in defense, shielded by a double pivot of Banega and Mbia; Vitolo, Suarez and Vidal will play behind the sole striker and star of the team Carlos Bacca. Emery will not allow his team to sit back against Barcelona and will instruct them to pressure high up the pitch as much as they can, but as seen in the past his bold approach might not the best suited for such a clash. Sevilla’s recent record at Camp Nou is also very far from inspiring and it will take something extraordinary to reverse the trend on Saturday.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Beto; Cicinho, Carriço, Pareja, Coke; Banega, Mbia; Vitolo, Suarez, Vidal; Bacca
Key Match Facts
- Barcelona lost their last home league match 0-1 vs Celta.
- Rakitic will face Sevilla for the first time, after representing the Andalucians from 2011 to 2014.
- Last season’s corresponding fixture was a thrilling encounter with now Arsenal player Alexis Sanchez scoring the winner in a 3-2 contest at 90+4′.
- Lionel Messi has scored 15 career goals against Sevilla so far.
Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
An inevitable choice, not only because Messi is the best player of his generation but because he has the all-time La Liga scoring record firmly in his sights. After failing to beat it in the past three matches, you’d have to say that there’s a good chance this is the match where the diminutive Argentina finally gets to rewrite a chapter of football history for the upteenth time.
FC Barcelona 3-1 Sevilla CF
Barcelona will bounce back from their recent poor form with a convincing win against Sevilla, who will have some spells of great attacking football but eventually come up short, as seems to be the case every time an Emery teams faces Barcelona.