The AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) high-speed trains are a great way in which to travel. Ave is also a Spanish word for “bird” so the name has a double entendre. The Sevilla team flew low to Barcelona on Friday night. Six hours instead of 90 minutes in a plane. At least they didn’t have to travel to Milan on a bus.
Spain’s national airline, Iberia, has been hit with strikes all this week. Workers threatened with lay-offs are protesting what they believe is a ploy by the company to devalue the airline so that it can be flicked off, at a lower price, to its major share-holder British Airways.
The Sevilla team and its fans are just a few of the many thousands of passengers who have been affected by the strike – hence the train trip via Madrid. In a way it was kind of lucky because it snowed on the hills around Barcelona last night. Any heavier and any lower meant that it would have snowed at the airport and it may have had to close. Barcelona has little in the way of snow clearing equipment – it just doesn’t happen regularly enough to justify the expense.
Blitzen will be running a Live Blog during the game. Check back later for the link and get in quickly, as there is a limit to the number of people who can sign in. Please be an active participant – otherwise leave the place for someone who will be.
The Return of Unai
This game will be the 3rd time that Unai has managed a team against Barça this season. Wait – whaaat? How is that possible? Simple, really. When Unai left Valencia at the end of last season, he went to Spartak Moscow. Barça played Spartak twice in the CL Group Play stage. Poor results saw Unai fired and he’s landed at Sevilla after Michel was kicked out after a year. (Michel is now on the bench at Olympiacos in Greece and he was made to suffer as Levante kicked them out of the Europa League on Thursday night.)
Unai’s teams (Almeria, Valencia and Spartak) have never won against the Blaugrana, but it’s not from want of trying. Over the last 5 seasons, he’s lost 9 times and drawn 5 games. On paper that looks to be a dismal result, but those of us who have seen those games know that Unai doesn’t easily concede, and some of those matches have gone down to the wire for Barcelona. Un-watered pitches and un-cut grass, be damned.
You can bet that Emery watched the Milan game and is positively salivating at the opportunity to hit Barça when their heads are a little wobbly. If anything, we’re up for a spirited sideline show from the man as he conducts his team with wild gesticulations and fierce facial expressions. Compared to him, Jordi “Easter Island”* Roura©™® is going to be sedentary sediment.
Sevilla’s State of Play
The team’s results have been a lot more positive since Unai took over in mid-January. They’ve picked up 10 out of a possible 15 points: drawing once, winning three games and losing one to Real Madrid. Contrast that to their games under Michel which resulted in 6W 4D 9L – 22 points out of 57.
Currently 10th on the Liga table, Sevilla will be content to see this season out by staying up in the Primera League, although if they continue to be successful and those above them fail, they may wind up in a Europa League spot.
After tonight’s match, their focus is fully on the return leg of the Copa del Rey Semi-Final in the Sánchez Pizjuán on February 27th against Atlético Madrid. The first leg at the Calderón resulted in a 2-1 win to Atléti, but Sevilla has the advantage of an away goal. The game will be an exciting one, because after defending champs Atlético crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday night, the Copa Del Rey is also their last chance at some silverware this season, Blaugrana Liga implosions aside.
However, don’t discount Sevilla at Camp Nou tonight. Under Michel they came very close to giving Barça its first defeat this season when, in September at the Sánchez Pizjuán, the home-side went 2-0 up before 2 goals by Cesc and a literally last minute pot by Villa meant that Barcelona came away with a squeaky-bum win. Mind you, it took Medel being red-carded before the Blaugrana could take control.
The Shady Gents from Seville
You know, I just had to include this video, given that it’s one of Andrews’ finest performances (in Victor Victoria) which showcased her magnificent 4 octave range. (This was before her voice was ruined in a botched operation at NY’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The reason for the operation was because of muscular striation to her vocal cords as a result of her Victor Victoria role.)
Sevilla is chock-full of talent, and Unai is just the person to unite the team and eke out the necessary skills.
The travelling squad is: Beto, Julián, Coke, Cala, Fazio, Botía, Fernando Navarro, Alberto Moreno, Medel, Maduro, Campaña, Kondogbia Hervás, Jesús Navas, Manu del Moral, Rakitić, Stevanović, Reyes, Negredo and Baba.
Depending on the chosen players, Negredo (10 goals) and Navas can provide the danger up the front, and new recruit 22yo Miroslav Stevanović (who arrived in January) on the wing will be an unknown factor as Barcelona has never played him before. Stevanović is part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina NT. 25yo Senegalese Papa Babacar Diawara is a big 6’ 1” contender for a forward position as well.
The mid-field is a treacherous minefield. Croatian NT player Ivan Rakitić is a tall threat during set pieces and he’s fast. He’s definitely the dangerman in the squad. With 6 assists for the season, he’s also the man providing the glory passes to the goal-scorers. Accompanying him will undoubtedly be Chilean NT player Gary “Pitbull” Medel. Medel gave Barcelona hell in the first game of this season, and he was extremely effective in closing down Messi. It wasn’t until he was red-carded off the pitch (after a dubious incident with Cesc), that Messi was able to break free and provide Cesc and Villa with assists – the latter sealing the win in the last minute of the game. Both Medel and Rakitić have scored 5 goals each as well. Young Sevilla local, 19yo José Campaña, has also made the squad, but is unlikely to get a start given that he’s just come back from injury. Ex-Arsenal/Real Madrid/Atlético Madrid player, José Reyes, will also provide some fireworks.
Sevilla’s back-line is a bit of a mystery for tonight’s game, because 2 of their regular First Team players have not been selected to travel. Cincinho is still missing some rhythm after coming back from injury, and Emir Spahić misses tonight’s match courtesy of having picked up 3 Yellow cards in 3 consecutive games which means that he gets to sit out a game. I learned something new today – I wasn’t aware of the 3 Yellow cards + 3 consecutive matches = 1 game suspension equation.
Veteran Left-back (and ex- Barça player) Fernando Navarro will likely get the nod, and Argentine Federico Fazio will be at Centre-back, with the remaining CB position to be filled by either Cala (also just returning from injury) or another ex-Blaugrana Alberto Botía or maybe Dutch NT Hedwiges Maduro. RB will probably be Coke because things just go better with it.
The Goal-keeper will be another unknown entity. That’s right, the veteran GK that is Andrés Palop (he of the amazing penalty saves) is out with a longterm injury and in his place is new January recruit, Portuguese NT player Beto. On-loan from Braga, Beto has impressed the denizens at Sevilla, and ex-GK Sevilla legend (and former Barcelona GK coach), Juan Carlos Unzué, had this to say about him:
“His performance has been very interesting. He’s a very dynamic and brave keeper and fairly complete. The thing that has surprised me the most is that, since he arrived, he has given the impression that he has spent his entire life playing with his teammates. He has shown level-headedness and security in his way of performing. He’s giving a good result and I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I’ve seen myself reflected in him. Like me, when he makes an error, it’s more from being courageous than a coward. He’s a very complete keeper who dominates aspects of the game. In conclusion he has good leg strength and reflexes. He’s brave and is attentive to the game.”
Missing in Action for Sevilla
As well as the above-mentioned Palop, Spahić and Cincinho, Sevilla is also without big German Piotr Trochowski (he who scored the goal against Madrid in the 69th second of the game to give Sevilla a home win earlier in the season, as well as the first goal in the 2-3 loss to Barcelona) who has a knee injury, Argentine winger Diego Perotti (hamstring) and young 18yo Chilean rep Bryan Mella who hasn’t had much play this season because of his knee troubles.
What of the Blaugrana?
King Éric Sylvain Abidal is back in da house – need I say more? Buckets of teary joy will be spilled when he takes to the pitch. I hope that he gets a run-on tonight at Camp Nou in the 88th minute.
After Wednesday’s dismal performance in Milan (where there were too many chefs on the pitch and no waiters to deliver the food), the team needs to pick themselves up and get back to business. Can we please see an end to the blocked attacking mid-field that is Cesc, Ini and Xavi on the pitch at one time? Just two of them would be sufficient – thanks very much.
22 players are available for selection. Glass-like Adriano is the only injury. Man, if he could only be wrapped in cotton-wool like Messi. Teehee.
My mind is screaming, “Rotate! Rotate! Rotate!” Sit Messi’s butt on the bench and only play him if it’s absolutely necessary. To play Piqué (currently on 4 Yellow cards) is risking him for next week’s clasico if he picks up another Yellow tonight. Of course, there may not be an option to Piqué playing if Puyol is still not 100% after his stapling episode.
My team would be:
Alves Bartra Masch Alba
Thiago Song Cesc
Alexis Villa Pedro
But I think that it will be more like:
Alves Piqué Masch Alba
Thiago Song Cesc
Pedro(Alexis) Messi Iniesta
The pitch received the slightest sprinkling of snow last night, but it’s now bright, sunny and cloudless – albeit still cold. At 10pm CET which is when the game will start, the temperature is expected to be 0degC (32degF) but the skies will be clear with a light wind.
The game kicks off at 22:00 CET on Saturday 23rd February.
Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: FC Barcelona vs. Sevilla FC
* the name Jordi “Easter Island” Roura©™® is attributed to blitzen who first inferred to it here