Barcelona will be aiming to stretch their lead at the top of the La Liga table, when they face off against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday

Matchday 25 of the 2018-19 La Liga season will see two giants go head to head against each other, as Barcelona travel to Andalusia to take on Sevilla on Saturday afternoon.

Barcelona are perched comfortably at the top of the league table, having opened up a seven-point lead over closest challengers Atletico Madrid. They haven’t been in the best of form of late, however, having managed to win just one of their last five games across all competitions, that too an unconvincing 1-0 win over Real Valladolid in their last league game.

Following the win, Ernesto Valverde’s men were held to a goalless draw by Lyon in the UEFA Champions League earlier this week. The La Liga champions will now be intent on returning to winning ways, ahead of a key contest against arch-rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

Sevilla, on the other hand, started the season in a sensational manner, pushing Barcelona in the title race, but have seen their campaign fizzle out of late. Pablo Machin’s side have failed to pick up three points in their last three Liga encounters (D1 L2), with their latest league game ending in a 3-0 defeat away to Villarreal.

The Andalusians did bounce back from the defeat, beating Serie A side Lazio 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday and would be hoping to carry that momentum back into the Spanish top-flight against the league leaders.

Barcelona and Sevilla have met each other four times already this season, with the Catalans winning three of those matches, that include the 4-2 and 6-1 hammerings at Camp Nou. Although they were beaten 2-0 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan by Sevilla. And ahead of the heavyweight clash on Saturday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Sevilla

Full-back Sergio Escudero misses out for the home team with an injury he picked up against Lazio earlier this week. Jesus Navas too, picked up a knock in the European encounter, but is fit enough to be involved. Teenager Bryan Gil has been left out of the 18-man squad by Pablo Machin, but Ever Banega and Maximilian Wober are back in contention, having been suspended for the midweek clash.

Tomas Vaclik is a sure starter between the sticks for the home team and will seek protection from the three-man backline comprising of Gabriel Mercado, Simon Kjaer and Sergi Gomez. With Navas fit enough, he should feature as the right-sided wing-back.

But, the former Manchester City man will have his task cut out against the onrushing Jordi Alba. Quincy Promes could get the nod on the opposite side with Escudero ruled out.

Midfield mainstay Banega will return to the starting XI now that he is available and will be key for Sevilla’s chances to come away with a positive result on Saturday. Partnering him in the centre of the park should be Argentine Franco Vazquez, who was sent off against Lazio in the midweek game.

Pablo Sarabia will be in-charge of the playmaking duties, slotting in the No. 10 role for Sevilla, with Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder providing the threat upfront with their sharp movement and strong finishing abilities.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Vaclik; Mercado, Kjaer, Gomez; Navas, Banega, Vazquez, Promes; Sarabia; Ben Yedder, Silva

Barcelona

Barcelona continue to be without services of Jasper Cillesen, Arthur, Rafinha and Thomas Vermaelen for the trip to Sevilla. Samuel Umtiti has once again been named in the 18-man squad by Valverde and could be eased into action on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how manager Ernesto Valverde approaches his team selection with a big game against Real Madrid lined up next.

In goal, there is no looking past first-choice Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Sergi Roberto could move back to the right-back slot, having featured as a midfielder against Lyon, with Nelson Semedo dropping to the bench. Jordi Alba should continue on the opposite side, while Gerard Pique could find himself paired up with Umtiti at the heart of the defence.

Sergio Busquets will anchor the midfield for the Catalans again and he will be supported by the energetic Arturo Vidal, who hasn’t been in the best of form. The third midfield slot could most likely be taken up by Carles Alena, granting Ivan Rakitic some rest ahead of the Real Madrid clash.

Ousmane Dembele could also be given a breather, with Philippe Coutinho starting out on the left flank for the Catalans. However, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are expected to hold on to their spots in attack, with the former needing to find form ahead of the crucial Copa del Rey clash.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Vidal, Busquets, Alena; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho;

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have defeated Sevilla 81 times in La Liga history, more than any other team.
  • Sevilla have won just one of their last 23 La Liga games against Barcelona (D5 L17) – a 2-1 victory in October 2015. They have managed to keep just one clean sheet those matches.
  • After drawing 0-0 against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames last weekend, Barcelona could fail to score in consecutive La Liga away games for the first time since January 2015 (a run of two games).
  • Barcelona’s Phillipe Coutinho has been directly involved in six goals in his six games against Sevilla in all competitions (four goals, two assists).
  • Sevilla’s Pablo Sarabia has now equalled his best total of goal involvement in a single La Liga season (16, eight goals and eight assists, the same as he had in 2016-17).

Player to Watch

Luis Suarez

http://www.thehardtackle.com/round-up/2019/02/17/barcelona-player-ratings-vs-real-valladolid-messi-penalty-the-difference-in-sluggish-performance/

In desperate need of a turnaround. (Photo by Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images)

The Uruguayan international is going through a lean patch of form, which has had a negative impact on Barcelona’s recent results as well. In the last five matches in all competitions, Barcelona have won just one, with Suarez not finding the back of the net in even one of those games.

Suarez was particularly disappointing in the goalless stalemate against Lyon earlier this week, drawing a lot of flak from all quarters. However, the 32-year-old does enjoy a healthy goal-scoring record against Sevilla, having scored 9 times in 15 matches, while he also has 7 assists to go along with.

The last time Suarez scored was against Sevilla, in the 6-1 triumph in Copa del Rey towards the end of last month. An,d he will be hoping to find his mojo once again when he faces the Andalusian outfit on Saturday.

Prediction

Sevilla 1-2 Barcelona

Sevilla have been struggling to pick up victories in La Liga of late. Pablo Machin’s side have managed to win just two of their last eleven Spanish top-flight encounters. Barcelona too haven’t been at their best in recent weeks, winning just once in last five matches, with goals not coming as frequently as they did before the winter break.

Sevilla will have good memories of their last home match against the Catalans, but the manner in which they were hammered by Barcelona in the second leg of the Copa del Rey is also likely to play on their minds. Ernesto Valverde will have headaches of his own, with back-to-back fixtures against Real Madrid post the Sevilla encounter, which could have an impact on his selection.

It promises to be an intriguing encounter at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, which is never an easy place to visit for any club. However, we at The Hard Tackle expect Barcelona to come away with a slender victory and further consolidate their place at the top of the table.

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