The top two teams of La Liga will go head to head this weekend as leaders Sevilla face off against reigning champions Barcelona at Camp Nou.
After the two-week international break, Saturday evening will see a top of the table clash in the La Liga, as second-placed Barcelona welcome surprise leaders Sevilla to Camp Nou.
Barcelona, the reigning champions, haven’t had the steadiest of starts to the defence of their title. The Catalans are without a victory in four consecutive games in the Spanish top-flight (D3, L1), with their latest encounter against Valencia ending in a 1-1 draw.
Manager Ernesto Valverde finds himself under a bit of pressure to arrest the recent run of poor form and a win on Saturday night would send Barcelona on top of the table and help them get back into groove ahead of next week’s El Clasico against rivals Real Madrid.
Sevilla, in stark contrast to their Saturday’s opponents, have picked up four wins on the trot in the La Liga, beating Levante, Real Madrid, Eibar and most recently Celta Vigo. Pablo Machin’s side will be aiming to add Barcelona to their list of scalps for the season and stretch their lead over the Catalans to four points with a victory at Camp Nou.
Team News & Tactics
The current title holders have been hit with injuries in defence, with mainstay Samuel Umtiti ruled out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury, while Thomas Vermaelen returned from the international break with a hamstring injury, that has forced him out of the game as well.
Sergi Roberto, who missed the last game against Valencia for the Blaugrana is fit again, while Luis Suarez is also available, having not featured for Uruguay in the international break with an injury. Summer signing Malcom has been left out of the matchday squad, along with Denis Suarez, Carles Alena and Sergi Samper.
Barcelona will set out in the 4-3-3 formation when the league leaders come visiting on Saturday night. German international Marc-Andre ter Stegen will man the goal for the Catalans, with the protection of Roberto and Jordi Alba as the full-backs, along with Gerard Pique and summer signing Clement Lenglet as the centre-back partnership.
Sergio Busquets is a pretty much a guaranteed presence in the starting eleven at the base of the three-man midfield. He will act as the conduit between the two halves of the pitch, with summer signing Arthur Melo, who has been in impressive form of late and Ivan Rakitic expected to complete the trio.
Club captain Lionel Messi is another definite starter, out on the right flank, with Philippe Coutinho expected to pip Ousmane Dembele for the starting berth on the left wing. Spearheading the attack for the champions will be Suarez.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
Argentine defender Gabriel Mercado is back in the scheme of things for the visitors, having been sidelined since the start of September. However, midfielders Maxime Gonalons and Ibrahim Amadou remain absent for Machin’s side for the trip to Camp Nou.
The Sevilla manager has used a three-man backline, which seems to have worked out very well so far and he is unlikely to change that for Saturday’s fixture. Summer signing Tomas Vaclik has firmly established himself as the first-choice goalkeeper for Sevilla and will start against the Blaugrana.
30-year-old Daniel Carrico will hold his spot in the back three for the Andalusian outfit, along with Danish centre-half Simon Kjaer and Sergi Gomez, who has become a key cog in defence since joining in the summer.
Club captain and seasoned pro Jesus Navas will take the right wing-back slot, but will have to be wary against the double threat posed by Alba and Coutinho, while youngster Guilherme Arana will find himself trying to combat against Messi on the opposite flank.
Argentine international Ever Banega will take up the playmaking duties in the middle of the park, with support coming from fellow Argentine Franco Vazquez and Pablo Sarabia, who was on the scoresheet against Celta Vigo in the last game.
Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder have been in fine form for Sevilla, bagging 12 goals in the La Liga between themselves this term. Definite starters at Camp Nou on Saturday.
Probable Starting XI (3-5-2): Vaclik; Carrico, Kjaer, Gomez; Navas, Sarabia, Banega, Vazquez, Arana; Ben Yedder, Silva
- Sevilla won the La Liga title the last time they were top of the table on after eight games of a season (1945-1946).
- Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 40 home games in La Liga (W32, D8), their best unbeaten streak at home in the competition since November 1993 (40 – W34, D6).
- Barcelona have won 7 of their last 8 matches against Sevilla in all competitions.
- Sevilla are winless in 15 games at Camp Nou (D2, L13) in the La Liga, conceding 40 goals in those matches.
Player to Watch
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Having conceded very early in the game against Valencia, Barcelona had to rely on Messi’s brilliance to salvage a point against Los Che before the international break. And the Catalans’ manager Valverde will once again look up to his captain to deliver the goods when the league leaders come visiting this weekend.
So far in the ongoing campaign, the 31-year-old has netted six times in the La Liga and has four assists to go along with. He could have already hit double figures for the season, but has been a bit unlucky, having hit the woodwork more times (six) than any other player in La Liga this season.
Messi’s record against Sevilla is exceptional to say the least. The Argentine attacker has bagged 31 goals in 34 matches against the Andalusians, at a rate of goal every 95 minutes, making them the club he has scored the most goals against in his career. Expect him to pose a serious threat on Saturday night at Camp Nou.
Barcelona 2-2 Sevilla
Sevilla have been in exceptional form coming into the weekend encounter and deservedly sit atop the La Liga table. They will come to Camp Nou with the intention of taking all three points and widening the gap at the top. However, their recent record against Barcelona, particularly away from home, doesn’t make for impressive reading.
Barcelona, on the other hand, haven’t picked up a victory in four league games in a row and go into the game under some pressure to turn things around. With both Pique and Lenglet not being in the best of forms this term, they will be vulnerable at the back, and in the form that the Sevilla attackers are, they have the capability to hurt the Catalans.
It promises to be an entertaining encounter this weekend, with plenty of goals on the horizon. And we at The Hard Tackle expect the two teams to share the spoils at Camp Nou.