Barcelona and Sevilla both find themselves at the end of the most demanding quarter-final tie in the Copa del Rey as they prepare themselves to take each other on twice in the next one week.
The Catalan club find themselves camped up at the top of the table, five points clear off Atletico Madrid. Ernesto Valverde’s men are also favourites to win the cup for the fifth time in a row.
Sevilla started off well and earned the tag of surprise title contenders going into November. Come 2019 and their season headed to a downward projectile. The Seville-based club have won just one game in the last six games in all competitions.
We take a look at the talking points ahead of the replay of last season’s Copa del Rey final.
Another episode of the Lionel Messi show?
Sevilla are Messi’s favourite opponents. The Argentine has netted 32 goals against the Los Hispalenses in all competitions. Keeping this in mind, Valverde rested the forward against Leganes on Sunday.
A logical inference of this move would be that the Copa del Rey is treated as a priority at Barcelona and Valverde will enter the battlefield with all guns blazing, the Argentine bazooka in particular.
Messi came on as a substitute and prevented a Sevilla victory when the two teams met for the second time in the league last season.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner engineered a 5-0 win for the Blaugrana in the finals last season against the same outfit.
The 31-year-old was injured before the quarter-hour mark in their encounter earlier this season. But he was still the player with maximum impact, scoring one and assisting another in that brief time as Barcelona went on to win the game 4-2.
Wednesday night could host yet another episode of the Messi show against his favourite opposition.
Machin must make new plan
The three-man defence worked almost flawlessly for Sevilla in the first few months this season. However, one win in the last six games in all competitions is a terrible record and it can’t be overlooked.
Sevilla have lost twice to a struggling Athletic Club twice in the past 10 days and one could say that Los Leones did not have to work hard for their win in the league.
It appears that teams in Spain have accustomed themselves to Sevilla’s style of play and their inability to evolve is beginning to cost Pablo Machin’s side.
However, all is not lost and a win against Barcelona could help them get their mojo back.
Machin must try a different approach against the Catalan outfit and use that as a blueprint for the rest of the season, if successful.
Sevilla can’t afford to make the same mistakes over and over and watch their hard work at the beginning of the season go in vain.
The poor performances call for a change in or improvisation in tactics and Machin needs to deliver.
“Now or never” for Philippe Coutinho?
The costliest signing in Barcelona’s history has struggled to strike a note in the Catalan outfit and has clearly fallen off the perch in Valverde’s good books.
The versatile Brazilian has lost the left-central midfield position to Arthur Melo and the left-wing position to Ousmane Dembele.
His poor form has even sparked rumours that the Spanish giants want to offload him and are willing to listen to offers.
With Dembele side-lined due to injury for at least two weeks, Coutinho should be a guaranteed starter on the left wing for four games.
The former Liverpool man is hence presented with a golden opportunity to assert himself and claim a spot in the starting line-up. Should he perform well, he will be high on confidence in the most crucial phase of the season as Barcelona resume their quest for all three trophies.
It’s now or never for Coutinho and he must not let this slip.
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