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!