Fourth-place Sevilla are always a tough side to beat on their home ground, as Barca have discovered to their detriment several times in recent history. And with a cloud hanging over Lionel Messi‘s fitness and Luis Suarez’s form, this could easily be the sort of game that trips up the champions.
Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of the game.
WHAT TO DO WITH MESSI?
Barcelona’s ‘Messidependencia’ has always been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to know that when nothing else is working, giving the ball to the best player in the world is the simple fall-back plan. On the other, it’s always a concern when a team is too dependent on one player. What happens if he suffers a dip in form or an injury?
Granted, a slightly off-colour Messi, which is what Barca have had suiting up for them recently as he continues to recover from a thigh injury, is still better than most players. But why risk it?
Barcelona actually do alright without their talisman. So far this season, they’ve won five of the eight games that Messi has missed and the two times they’ve lost, it was in the first leg of a Copa del Rey tie in which Messi returned for the second leg to turn things around.
Granted, one of those losses was away to Sevilla, so perhaps this isn’t the best fixture to rest him – especially considering his stellar record against them. But if he’s not at 100 per cent, with two games against Real Madrid and the return leg of the Champions League tie against Lyon coming up, the decision will have to be made soon.
Leo Messi's favourite opponents 🤤 pic.twitter.com/N81n8PlT8f— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) February 22, 2019
ALENA COULD REDUCE BURDEN ON MESSI
The problem with leaving Messi out at the moment is that the whole team will be lose its balance – the other edge of that Messidependencia sword.
Without Messi, Barcelona have to rely on Suarez, who is also struggling for form and fitness. The Uruguayan hasn’t scored for five games and incidentally only one of those games ended in a Barca win.
It’s unlikely that both Suarez and Messi will be rested for the same game, unless Ernesto Valverde wants to use a front three of Ousmane Dembele, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Philippe Coutinho. Not likely.
That puts Valverde in the position of choosing between resting Messi and dropping Suarez. But if the striker is dropped, though a Dembele-Messi-Coutinho strike force sounds tantalising, it does leave Barca even more dependent on their captain.
One solution for that would be to bring Carles Alena into midfield. With the impressive Arthur sidelined through injury, the three-man unit of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal can be passive at times. None of them carries the ball with the same light feet and deftness of touch that Alena brings – which again leaves Messi with too much to do.
Start the highly-rated academy product, and it could ease the burden on Messi, while allowing Suarez time off to rediscover his best form. Win-win-win?
ARE SEVILLA ABOUT TO TURN A CORNER?
The last time Sevilla hosted Barcelona, they won 2-0 and harboured dreams of reaching the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
Since then, however, they’ve lost to Celta Viga and Villarreal, two sides battling against relegation, and of course, they also lost the second leg of that cup tie 6-1 after running into a Messi on peak form.
But in the midst of this, the Europa League, as it often does, has proved a balm for the Andalusian club. Beating Lazio 2-0 at home on Thursday, following up on their 1-0 win in the away leg, should bring the confidence back to a Sevilla side who have slipped alarmingly after threatening to be La Liga title contenders earlier this season.
On their day, they can beat Barcelona, especially if they catch the champions below their best – a phenomenon that seems to strike many a visitor to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. They’ve already shown it once this season – not to mention the performance they put in to beat Real Madrid 3-0 at home earlier in the season.
The Lazio result should give them the fillip they need to rediscover that form. Are they about to do an encore?
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