Barcelona host Sevilla in a top of the table clash at Camp Nou in La Liga on Sunday. The hosts’ title defence has begun with a relative stutter this season and Barcelona must rectify their poor recent run of league form against a high flying Sevilla side this weekend.
The visitors pose the strongest threat to the Catalan giants at present, with Pablo Machin’s side a point clear of Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona at the summit of the table heading into Saturday’s match.
The reigning champions have not won in their last four La Liga outings, with their stronger showings coming in the Champions League so far this season, and they'll be looking to haul their title defence back on track in what is a vital clash at Camp Nou this weekend.
Sevilla, meanwhile, have enjoyed a flying start to their campaign which has seen them deliver greater consistency and conviction than La Liga’s ‘big three’ sides in Barcelona and both Madrid clubs, with Los Hispalenses sitting above all three at the top of the table.
Saturday’s encounter provides the truest test yet in the campaign so far of both Sevilla’s true title credentials and of Barcelona’s resolve and ability to defend their crown.
|When?||Saturday 20 October @ 7.45pm (BST)|
|How Can I Watch It?||Eleven Sports|
Barcelona’s recent form in La Liga has largely summed up the champions’ season so far, with two draws and one defeat from their last three domestic outings a poor return from a side of the Catalans’ quality and stature.
A shock 2-1 defeat away to Leganes, in which Valverde’s side threw away a 1-0 lead, was followed by consecutive 1-1 draws at home to Athletic Bilbao and away to Valencia last time out.
Barca’s star men largely went missing on each occasion, though Lionel Messi’s equalising strike against Valencia built on the attacking masterclass the Argentine produced to put Tottenham to the sword in a 4-2 win in the Champions League four days earlier.
Sevilla, meanwhile, have fared far better in their recent run of La Liga matches, though less successfully in Europe. A stunning 3-0 win over European champions Real Madrid was the defining moment of Machin’s side’s season so far and is most reflective of their current position.
That home triumph was followed by another comfortable win, as Sevilla secured a 3-1 win away to Eibar. A 2-1 defeat away to FC Krasnodar in the Europa League threatened to put a dampener on proceedings, but a 2-1 win at home to Celta Vigo three days later strengthened their position at the top of the La Liga table.
Saturday’s trip to the Camp Nou serves up Sevilla’s toughest test so far this season and threatens to halt their table topping charge in La Liga. However, the previous encounter between the two sides should provide an encouraging reminder that Machin’s side certainly have the beating of Barcelona on their day.
Goals from Franco Vazquez and Luis Muriel either side of half time thrust the champions elect firmly on the back foot.
Valverde’s side required a dramatic late fightback to save Barca’s blushes, as quick-fire strikes from star duo Luis Suarez and Messi in the last two minutes of the match narrowly secured a point for either side in a 2-2 draw.
Sergio Busquets vs Ever Banega
With clashes typically tight between these two sides, the mere point which separates Barcelona from Sevilla in the La Liga table heading into this weekend’s clash suggests that Saturday’s encounter will be no different.
As both sides will require a foothold to assert their authority over the opposition, the midfield battle will be key in deciding which side is able to seize control of the game on Saturday.
For Barcelona, Sergio Busquets is very much the hub of Valverde’s team, and the Spaniard will look to assert the kind of influence on the match from his deep-lying midfield base which has become the Barca icon’s trademark.
On the opposing side, Sevilla’s Ever Banega will look to perform a similar role for the visitors, though the Argentine’s talismanic role for his side tends to see the playmaker venture further forward with more free-roaming advances into the opposition’s half.
Busquets and Banega are undoubtedly the key men in pulling the strings for their respective sides and Saturday’s match could ultimately be decided by the prevailing of either man in assuming the greater and more decisive creative influence to guide their side to victory.
Barcelona head into Saturday’s match with a number of defensive issues and the absence of a star man to contend with.
Centre backs Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen continue to miss out with hamstring and knee injuries respectively, while right back Sergi Roberto remains absent.
In another blow to Valverde’s selection plans, star striker Luis Suarez is missing from action with a knee problem which forced the 31-year-old to miss Uruguay’s international commitments during the break.
Sevilla, meanwhile, have similar defensive concerns of their own, with centre back Gabriel Mercado still recovering from a fractured arm and Sergio Escudero absent with an elbow problem. Ibrahim Amadou is also set to miss out due to a similar issue.
Saturday’s match is a big test and a great occasion for both sides as La Liga’s top two meet, and the pressure to win is undoubtedly of greater weight on Barcelona.
The champions have endured real struggles in recent domestic outings and will be conscious of the need to return to winning ways to get their title defence back on track, while Sevilla’s recent run of great league form will likely see the visitors buoyed all the more by Barca’s problems.
Both sides have the capacity to stamp an authority on this match, as Barcelona’s collective of individual stars and Sevilla’s team ethic and determination should provide a relatively even and closely-fought encounter.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-2 Sevilla