Not Just Another Match: Sevilla – Barça

There are moments when La Liga matches feel generic. Barcelona takes on [Insert Team Name], Messi scores twice, fans/media create week-long controversy to kill time, all is right with the world. There are times when these mundane realities are all we have to go on leading up to the next match. Swap in whatever opponent, adjust the name of “I hate [so and so] as a ref,” and remember to point out that their central midfielders take no prisoners. If it’s an especially slow news cycle between matches, you can add in some Twitter gossip and Neymar stories to make things go quicker and earn some extra page views.

I often try to write these previews to sound like there’s a real match going to happen, but it’s more or less just me making up something about how Barcelona is probably going to win.

This match, this trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan, is more than a generic encounter. Sid Lowe has chronicled what Sevilla is capable of, even without Freddie Kanoute, and it’s important to make sure that Barcelona doesn’t fall into the rat trap of complacency. There will always be danger matches, but a trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan almost 24 hours before Madrid takes on Deportivo la Coruña could serve as a vital tool leading into what will certainly be an interesting two weeks.

The clásico looms large, but so too does the match directly in front of us. Sevilla sit 5th with 11 points from 5 matches. They’re 2-0-0 at home (2-1 against Getafe and 1-0 against Real Madrid) and have yet to lose on the road. They’re not lighting the world on fire offensively (6 goals scored), but they’re standing firm at the back, with just 2 allowed. That’s better than Barça’s 3, 2 of which have been allowed on the road. In fact, Barça has yet to record a clean sheet on the road (though it’s only been 2 matches).

A fully healthy Alvaro Negredo can cause a lot of problems in the middle and dynamic wing play from Cicinho and Jesus Navas can spring the break at any moment. They’re fierce and they’re hard (Medel, Navarro, and Negredo are all happy to leave the boot in) and they’re looking for another major scalp. With Pique and Puyol currently sitting in dry dock and Iniesta yet to be fully healthy, the back line could be put under considerable pressure, especially if there’s not enough possession in midfield.

And that’s not just any old possession—it has to be possession with intent. That doesn’t mean all-out attack. That doesn’t mean always playing that clever one-two through the middle to free a player in the box (though by all means, that latter bit is highly recommended!), but it does mean working hard to keep Sevilla pinned back and unable to create offensive rhythm of their own. This is usually the FCB approach, of course, but it is more vital to stay concentrating when facing Sevilla than it is against Granada, for instance.

Barça hasn’t been a strong as 15 points might indicate—some close shaves and some slack defending have been the M.O. of this team for the whole season. The loss to Real Madrid in the Supercopa second leg was just an example of a talented team taking advantage of the mistakes that the team has been making rather regularly throughout the year. Xavi’s goal against Granada was an example of Barcelona’s talent coming to the fore. Messi has held the team’s scoring together with several doubles, but there has been a distinct lack of 90 minute matches. Only the Real Sociedad match to start the year was a clear victory from start to finish. Spartak put the screws to the team in Champions League as well, bolting 2 goals past Valdes to make the remuntada trope reappear earlier than expected.

Barça’s squad : Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Cesc, Xavi, Villa, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Bartra, Busquets, Pedro, Alba, Montoya, Song, Tello, Sergi Roberto.

What is probably most interesting is that Fontas and Jonthan dos Santos remain outside of Tito’s plans. It’s unfortunate, considering their prodigious talents, but there’s no doubt that the rest of the team is also chock full of talent as well. My expected lineup is the one that gives us the most firepower from the offing:

Valdés, Alves, Song, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Tello, Messi.

I could easily see the front 3 switching around a bunch with Pedro, Tello, Villa, and Alexis taking up those 2 spots between them. Tito could surprise us, of course, and just put out Sergi Roberto as a central striker. Who knows!

What remains a constant with these matches is that Barcelona must remain vigilant, must not go to sleep and think “Oh, just another humdrum match.” It’s not. It’s time to play and play to win. It is also time for Messi to score again. And also for Mascherano to score his first. Carbombs if he does!

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Written by:

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. ciaran
    September 28, 2012

    The spanish press were pointing out that Alexis is yet to score this season. Villa needs game time but Pedro is in decent form and Tello’s vital to width at the minute.
    He is the only other attacker that gets double marked by defenders other than Messi.

    • ciaran
      September 28, 2012

      so basically i agree with your starting XI

  2. Wasiubarca
    September 28, 2012

    Well,i prefa alexis,pedro nd messi up front.alexis instead of telo is coz we need experienced players upfront nd alexis is gud in defendin dan tello.i wil nt like joldi alba 2 start 2.i tink we need adriano at left back coz he is our inform wasiubarca frm nigeria.(+23408132146752 or 07052297715)

    • ooga aga
      September 29, 2012

      adriano is not fit. dont think anyone has mentioned this.


  3. simple_barcafan
    September 28, 2012

    You have been writing a lot of posts lately Isaiah…

    • September 28, 2012

      Just going out on a limb here: this is a good thing, right?

    • Dani_el
      September 28, 2012

      Of course it is! And it is greatly apreciated. Good starting eleven, but what about Thiago for Cesc, some times he can dribble his way into a locked defense.

    • simple_barcafan
      September 28, 2012

      It sure is..I for one, am a great admirer of your posts..Keep it going…

  4. _Lily
    September 28, 2012

    Honestly, if Madrid played before us and dropped points to Depor, I’d be perfectly happy to see Sevilla manage a draw or even a win against us, just for the novelty of it. As is… well, I still wouldn’t be heartbroken. I love Jesus Navas.

    I mean, I’m a Barca fan. I love the team. I watch almost every one of their matches, and I will wax poetic about Messi and Puyol and La Masia etc for so long that one of my friends now refuses to live with me because she’s tired of hearing it. I follow Barca B as much as I can.

    But at the same time, I’m *tired* of these 90-something point seasons. I’m tired of a loss typically occurring because of a bad ref or a bad day for our players. Getafe? Osasuna? Those were hardly impressive showings. Even most draws were written off to ref errors.

    I’m not saying that pointing out the ref errors is wrong, but it makes it all a bit boring and I almost end up preferring watching Valencia, who are my other favourite team. They tear my heart out and stomp on it sometimes, but at least I sit down at kickoff really not being sure of the outcome. Even the other potential CL/Europa contenders – Sevilla, Malaga, Atletico, etc – are more suspenseful and intriguing. In some ways, the close calls with Barca this season have been nice – at least I really didn’t know what was going to happen.

    I still expect Barcelona and Madrid to take the first two spots (though my gut is screaming that second won’t go to either of them, for some reason), but it would be nice if there wasn’t a 20-point or a 30-point gap between second and third place, and if it felt like more than two matches a year for those two that were a real struggle because the other team was good.

    The first step to that is seeing teams like Valencia and Sevilla draw blood. I won’t be leaping for joy if Sevilla stay undefeated after tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll cry, either.

    (Especially not if Depor hurt Madrid Sunday, though I really don’t expect that to happen.)

    • _Lily
      September 28, 2012

      And this was more of a novel than I intended it to be – sorry.

    • simple_barcafan
      September 28, 2012

      I totally agree with you..Except just once I want Barca to get a 100 point season..Just to remove the smirk on the EE fans…

    • simple_barcafan
      September 28, 2012

      *smirk on the face of EE fans..

    • Kimcelona
      September 28, 2012

      I think we all get that its not good for there to be just Madrid and Barca every year with a 20-30 point gap between 2nd and third but the problem doesnt lie in teams like Sevilla, Valencia and Pathetico beating Barca (and Madrid) its about being consistent. If those teams would play and win all or most of their matches, things would be much closer. But then theres other issues like depth, money, corruption, blah, blah..stuff for another day.

      So, while I’m all for “HAY LA LIGA!” I’d like us to win tomorrow and BIG.

      But thats just me. I like to cheer for the team I support…

    • _Lily
      September 29, 2012

      Not sure if liking to cheer for the team you support is a pointed comment at me, but whatever. I’m perfectly comfortable with the level of support I show for my team without having to combine it with my name.

      I actually disagree that the problem doesn’t lie in teams like Sevilla, Valencia, and Atletico Madrid beating Barcelona and Madrid.

      What you’ve pointed out *is* part of the issue. These teams can sometimes put up a decent fight on the day, but for various reasons can’t continue with it throughout the season.

      However, I think that saying, “Well, it’s all about consistency” is oversimplifying it. There’s something symbolic about earning a deserved victory from an excellent team that can give you the confidence and drive you need to *become* consistent. If you don’t have the mindset, the race is over before it starts. If the best elite La Liga teams can hope for was not to be completely humiliated or *maybe* manage a draw against the big two, do you really think that they’ll feel like they can compete against them?

      There’s also the simple fact that getting points off Barcelona and Madrid, especially wins, can really change the table. We all know about relegation six-pointers – the same idea is true the top of the table. To be in direct competition for a title, you need to be able to challenge the other team head-to-head. It’s ludicrous to suggest otherwise. How can a team that doesn’t get any points off their direct competition hope to get near them in points?

      Last season Valencia got complacent, but the season before that, 21 points separated them from second-placed Madrid. For the sake of argument, let’s say that instead of losing all four games, Valencia had managed to beat both Barcelona and Madrid twice. The table would look like this:

      Barcelona: 90
      Madrid: 86
      Valencia: 83

      If they’d been that close, they might have managed not to drop 7 points in the last 5 games.

      Now, Valencia picking those up may not be realistic (though it’s worth pointing out that with different linesmen they might have picked up 4 of the 6 away this season), but I’m not sure how you can say that the problem doesn’t lie in those teams not beating Barcelona and Madrid. If teams like Valencia and Sevilla could reliably pick wins off Barcelona and Madrid, the league would be much closer.

      I like numbers, so I’m going to take this further.

      Of the other five clubs that got European spots in 10-11 (Valencia, Villarreal, Sevilla, Athletic, and Atletico), the only one that didn’t lose every match against the big two were Sevilla, who managed a home draw against Barcelona. 28 of Barcelona points and 30 of Madrid’s came off what are supposed to be 5 of the best teams in the league.

      So let’s say that each team had managed to either beat or draw both Barcelona and Madrid once over the season. Valencia two wins, Villarreal, Sevilla, and Atletico a win and a draw, and two draws for Athletic.

      Suddenly the table changes to something like this:

      Barcelona: 96 -> 86
      Real Madrid: 92 -> 79
      Valencia: 77
      Villarreal: 66
      Atletico: 62
      Sevilla: 61
      Athletic: 60

      Doesn’t much help most of them, but that would have opened the door for Valencia.

      Right now, most of these squads don’t have the money to get real depth, and they’re frequently playing in more than one competition for a good chunk of the season. It’s easy to talk about consistency, but the fact is that not every team has the depth to drop just 20 points over the entire season, especially if 12 are to Barcelona and Madrid. They can’t get to 90 or 100 points. The answer is to get Barca and Madrid down to 75 or 80. They haven’t been able to do that lately. if they could, we wouldn’t be ending with such big gaps between second and third.

    • _Lily
      September 29, 2012

      (… a bigger novel. Great. Sorry, I’m in love with statistics and logic.)

    • G6O
      September 29, 2012

      The reason they can’t beat Madrid and Barcelona is the same reason they can’t win all of their other games – they’re not good enough because they can not attract/keep the best players which is because they don’t have the money to do so.

      Now, in Valencia’s case it is to a large extent their own fault – poor management resulted in the club almost going bankrupt. But if they had the money to keep their best players (not even to buy expensive ones from other teams), they would have been a serious contender. They sold Silva, Mata, Villa, Alba, etc., just in the last 3 years – that’s quite a sizable fraction of the non-Barca Spain NT players, and two of them went to Barca. Imagine if they still had them.

      But they were forced to sell and they failed to establish themselves as consistently winning, large amount of revenue-generating club in the middle of the last decade and now they’re locked into perpetually being the 3rd best team as the revenue gap is enormous and growing.

    • _Lily
      September 29, 2012

      I don’t disagree that a huge part of the problem is that the other big clubs can’t get/keep the best players, and while I think that you’re underestimating the effect of the economy crashing on Valencia (their region is the hardest hit in Spain, which is part of why they haven’t been able to finish up their new stadium and sell the first), I agree that if they hadn’t had to grapple with that, they would still be a force to be reckoned with.

      However, I think that you’re equating two different (though related) problems in your post.

      The reason they can’t beat Barcelona and Madrid is not the same reason they can’t win all their other games. The reasons are related, but I think that saying it all comes down to not having enough money and talent is a massive oversimplification.

      If it was really just about not having the talent, then Valencia wouldn’t be managing heroic draws against Madrid at the Bernabeu one week and then falling to Zaragoza or Betis the next. Athletic Bilbao would not go from stepping on Man U to slipping down to 10th in the league. Atletico would not go from losing 4-1 in the derby to stomping on Chelsea. Hell, if money was the only issue, Levante would not manage to get 6th in the league despite being old, poor, and bad at football.

      These teams do have a considerable amount of talent. They’re not as good as Barcelona or Madrid, but they’re not so outclassed that the best they can hope for it “Don’t get humiliated.” Valencia would have been in the first pot of the CL draw if not for Chelsea winning in June. Atletico would have been if they’d qualified over Malaga. These are good, solid teams, and they have excellent players. They should be able to challenge Barcelona or Madrid in individual matches at least some of the time.

    • G6O
      September 29, 2012

      Note that you are using the words “heroic draws” yourself. You don’t get “heroic draws” if you are as good as the other team, you go out and try to win if that’s the case.

      Sevilla lost its home games against Madrid by the exact same 2-6 score two years in a row. Valencia lost its home game 3-6 in 2010-2011.

      We beat Sevilla 5-0 at home in 2010-11, 4-0 in both the seasons before that. We won 5-0 the home game against Valencia last year.

      And let’s not even get started on Atletico – it was too many 5 and 6 goal wins to remember in the last several years.

      These are not just convincing wins, they would be embarrassments for any team if it wasn’t so widely accepted at this point that the gulf in class is so wide that it is expect that the top two teams will regularly score 4, 5 and 6 goals against the third and fourth team.

      On a given day many teams in La Liga can have a great game, give their all and scrape out a draw or even a win against the big two. But it’s also true, that before any such game the odds of the big two winning (and scoring a lot of goals while doing so) are much higher.

    • Kimcelona
      September 29, 2012

      Nice dig at my name. Really mature there! My last sentence wasnt aimed at you btw.

      Its all good and well to hypothesize that winning against Barca (and Madrid) will give those team confidence to go on be consistent, while adding and subtracting supposed points. But reality has shown me that Sevilla and the like can squeak out wins and/or draws against Barca and Madrid then go on to lose against teams like Valladolid the next week. That kind of inconsistency against teams they should be beating makes the gap large, IMO. My opinion won’t change on that but there are the factors I mentioned (like depth, money) which can disadvantage them to go on 15 match winning streaks like a Barca and a Madrid.

    • _Lily
      September 29, 2012

      Sorry – it’s difficult to tell tone on the internet. The statement came across to me as a bit of a dig since I’d just said that I wasn’t going to be heartbroken if Barcelona didn’t win.

      I don’t disagree with what either you or G60 are saying – I certainly don’t think that mindset explains away all or even most of the issues in La Liga. However, I think you two are missing my basic point and arguing with stuff I haven’t actually said.

      I started off by saying that I wouldn’t mind seeing Sevilla do something because I was tired of the 90 point seasons where no one else even came close, and that the first step to making that gap a little smaller is having these teams draw blood against Barcelona and Madrid.

      I didn’t say that any of them were likely to be able to challenge across the season or that they were as good as Barcelona or Madrid – in fact, I said just the opposite. What I did say is that I think they underperform against the big two, and that I think that part of that is because they often go in assuming they can’t win. I also said that that until they start beating Barcelona and Madrid, the gap isn’t going to get any smaller, which is why I’m pleased to see them finally starting to do so.

      At no point did I say that any of those teams have an equal chance of winning or that there weren’t a lot of other serious problems in La Liga that contribute to the gap, so I’m not sure why either of you is arguing with that.

  5. Dani_el
    September 28, 2012

    Abidal, the irreplaceable:


    “For all of this, and much more, it doesn’t make much sense to ask someone so he can come back sooner, when it is known he will, overcoming any human timetable for recovery. Neither to demand him to stay that way, because he will not only do just that, but he will never stop to grow as a person and evolve. So then, simply, thank you Abidal. Thank you for being the public persona that has gave me the best example in my life”.

  6. Kimcelona
    September 28, 2012

    I dont wanna see Tello start. He’s still a supersub in my eyes and will always be, imo. I wanna see Messi, Pedrito and Alexis. With Villa coming in the second half.

    Song and Masche are the CBs I expect to see tomorrow along with Alba and Dani. Montoya wont be starting tomorrow (if Dani aint injured) no matter how much people claim Dani is not good this year. I love Monti, I’m his biggest fan, but I still think Dani is number one choice no matter what.

    Midfield is a no brainer for two spots: Busi and Xavi. The other spot, I’m not sure. I’d like Thiago to start though. We’ll see who Tito choses.

    My gut feeling was a draw but I’m trying to be optimistic this year lol. So, I hope we win. I reallllllly would like us to go into the Clasico with an 8 point lead but I know the threats Sevilla pose especially at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

  7. September 29, 2012

    Haven’t posted much recently but I thought the whole Messi-Villa thing was mostly a non-event for me, what was more concerning was that Messi looked pissed for most of the match. Hopefully the players reduce deferring to Messi so much, Tito needs to play a role in that.

    Regarding the crowd support as nzm said, cules have always been more of the applaud-a-good-play and tactically knowledgeable to appreaciate quality football, as would remember from the heavy applause Pedro got for his tackle. The middle sections tend to be less sing songs and make noise like english supporters and also generally older and more families there.

    However the areas behind the goal have always hosted loud supporters who sing and wave flags throughout the match. North goal held the Boixos pre-laporta but the South goal held the Almogavers who’ve been the leading supporter group since then. It’s sad if as nzm says they’ve been coming to fewer matches and in fewer numbers. They used to turn up strong atleast for important matches earlier like Atleti, Bilbao, Sevilla, Valencia, Espanyol, clasico and CL. Hopefully we’ll see them today, their displays and colours are always a happy sight.

    Finally the acoustics of Camp Nou make it quite difficult for the crowd to be heard on both on TV and in the stadium but if you go to a match live you’ll definitely get a lot more than the telly would have you believe.

  8. genesfut
    September 29, 2012

    Valdes, alves, song, masche, alba, thiago, busi, cesc, villa, Alexis, messi

  9. nia
    September 29, 2012

    I hope Barca wins tomorrow. Score nice and early so we don’t get Messi agitated or give the fans heart attacks with 88 mins goals 🙂 With Kanoute gone, i think it will be a little easier. He used to terrorize us and poor Cesc probably still has nightmares from last year.

    Also why is Tito playing an even higher line than before knowing the lack of pace from the CB? It’s like footy suicide. I would start Alexis and Pedro since they defend better than Villa and Tello. I would also rather take the full points in the liga and if we have to, draw v Benfica. VISCA BARCA, VAMOS!!!!

  10. G0gah
    September 29, 2012

    I think Villa, Leo and Sanchez should start upfront with Pedro and Tello being the subs to relieve DV and AS. Remember those 2 sweet goals Villa scored in a 5-0 rout of Sevilla?

  11. Wasiubarca
    September 29, 2012

    Who is the beta player 2 start 4 ur presently between adriano and joldi alba?

  12. ooga aga
    September 29, 2012

    adriano will not play vs sevilla, he is hurt.

  13. September 29, 2012

    I think the key open question in this match is how Michel will balance high intensity pressure with the need to retain shape & control space in order to try to contain Messi.

    At this point, the oppoisition has really stopped defending Messi directly. That’s almost hopeless. Instead they are looking to control space in front of goal, compress the area between the lines he likes to operate and create a cage of 4-5 players around Messi.

    This is difficult to do however if Sevilla also want to press-which is part of their defensive approach. One that was the foundation for their victory vs. RM.

    Michel’s problem however is that the high pressure approach used vs RM isn’t a particularly good one vs Barca. There was too much space inside of their block as they looked to press through a series of 1 v 1 encounters across the pitch. This zonal coverage with intense man marking inside of zones is similar in ways to how Bielsa has Athletic defend. And Barca has done very well vs that kind of defense.

    Messi just creates too many problems when space opens on the interior of the block. When Iniesta is available he does the same. Not having him is a major loss.

    Conversely for Barca the question is how will they defend Negredo and long balls out from the back aimed at Mascherano & Song.

    Many have commented on how Barca’s press isn’t as effective this season. There’s several reasons for that but a major one IMO is that the opposition has adjusted. They know the heart of Barca’s defense is high up the pitch & in midfield. So they are looking to bypass that zone of defensive focus and play balls direct and long to the front line.

    This shouldn’t be a major problem but Barca has lacked solidity in the air which makes it a profitable approach. Negredo’s size will augment this risk.

    If Sevilla play narrow on the Left flank – which I’m not sure they will -then Alves becomes absolutely critical. He’ll have significant space to work with. Michel will want to pull Trochowski and Navarro into to suppor midfield – but that’s a dangerous strategy of the L. He can’t really do it on his right however as that will take away Navas and Cicinho’s transition game which depends on operating in wide spaces.

    I’d like to see Alexis played in a free role. If Sevilla is narrow on the L – use Pedro for tactical width there. But allow Sanchez to drop to midfield and create dribble penetration to relieve pressure from Messi. This will be particularly important if Sevilla come out and press intensely.

  14. Clouseau
    September 29, 2012

    Starting lineup :

    Pinto,Bartra,Montoya,Sergi Roberto,Thiago,Tello,Villa

    Good choice curious to see how Song & Masche stop the long balls to Negredo.

    • Clouseau
      September 29, 2012

      Sevilla: Palop,Cicinho,Botía,Spahic,Navarro,Medel,Maduro, Trochowski, Rakitić ,Navas & Negredo

    • September 29, 2012

      I’m curious to see what Tito will be wearing 😛
      Black polo or Grandpa cardigan or three-piece suit with skinny tie.

    • Clouseau
      September 29, 2012

      Haha thought he looked good with his all black cardigans so far it’s becoming a tradition a can barça.
      Maybe it’s me but he looked uncomfortable wearing a suite.

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