Ernesto Valverde has talked up the importance of Barcelona’s game at home to Sevilla in LaLiga on Sunday.
Ahead of the upcoming international break, the Catalonia club have 13 points from seven games and trail Real Madrid by five with the leaders having played a game more.
Sevilla have the same total as Barca and will provide them with stiff opposition at the Nou Camp given their positive start under new head coach Julen Lopetegui.
Yet Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Inter Milan in the Champions League made it three victories in a row for Valverde’s men since a shock 2-0 loss at Granada on September 21.
He said at a press conference: “Sometimes on a Monday you hit rock bottom and then on Wednesday we are in heaven and Saturday we are back down again.
“We are on a good run at the moment. We are playing a very good team in Sevilla so let’s keep moving forward.”
Lopetegui’s side have won back-to-back games and pushed Real Madrid close in a 1-0 home loss last month.
Valverde added: “Games with Sevilla are always intense, home or away. They are playing very well this season, especially away from home.
“Four (league) games away and they have won three. It is a team that is looking very good and very confident. They lost at home the other day to Real Madrid, but they played very well and very intense.
“They have got some really strong players down the wing, who can cause a lot of damage and they play lots of crosses and they can be dangerous.
“It’s a really important game for us because it’s so close at the top of the table at the moment. We have managed to recover more or less the points we dropped early on, not all of them, but we are all there tightly packed together so let’s see what happens.”
Sevilla head coach Lopetegui will attempt to mastermind a win over Barcelona, but will also be wary of suffering a thrashing.
The Andalusia club have been on the end of 6-1 and 5-0 defeats to the LaLiga champions in recent seasons.
Lopetegui, a former Barca goalkeeper, said at a press conference: “Nobody is going to stop us from giving it our best shot and playing as well as we can to counteract how they play.
“We will have to be perfect tomorrow, with a will and desire to do well. We will try to make the most of any opportunity that falls our way and we have to take our chances and compete at all times.
“In every game you’re going to have your moments and being able to adapt ourselves to the game will be the key tomorrow evening. We have to be able to respond well to changes in the game but we already know the effort levels that will be required.”
Lionel Messi is expected to feature for Barcelona and will hope to continue his superb record against Sevilla.
The Argentina superstar has netted 36 goals against the LaLiga outfit, but has struggled with injuries this season.
He made his return on Wednesday in the 2-1 win over Inter and should start on Sunday, yet Lopetegui is not focusing too much on the 32-year-old.
“Barcelona are going to be what they’re going to be, what we have to do is focus on ourselves. They are a great team; both with, and without, Messi,” he said.
“If Messi plays then of course they are a better team, but we are focused on ourselves, giving our all and playing with a lot of energy.”
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Neymar might sign, but didn’t, but still might…Antoine Griezmann did sign…so did Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic…but Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez didn’t leave…while Ansu Fati has broken through from nowhere…but Ousmane Dembele is injured again…so is Lionel Messi…and Luis Suarez may or may not be over the hill.
On the evidence of the vast majority of media stories and public chatter about Barcelona and Real Madrid over the last few weeks, you might think that only forwards exist in football. Or, at least, that only forwards matter.
Goalscoring is, of course, the fun and sexy part of the game. When we are young, we want to shoot and score. And if we can’t do that, we want to be the guy who allows someone else to score, creating moments of defence-destroying magic with a devastating dribble, pass or cross.
Perhaps, though, we should all learn to pay a bit more attention to the other aspect of the game: defending. Because whether we like it or not, what happens when you don’t have the ball is just as important to winning a game than whatever magic you might be capable of creating in possession.
That lesson was evident from Spain’s big two this weekend. Firstly, on Saturday afternoon, Barcelona finally gained their first away win of the season by overcoming Getafe 2-0.
Did they do it with a glorious exhibition of incisive and creative attacking play? Well, no. In truth, they created very few clear chances and the two goals they did score were decidedly pedestrian: a long ball over the top from the goalkeeper converted by the onrushing centre forward, followed by a half-saved shot bundled home from close range.
There was nothing special about the goals scored by Luis Suarez and Junior Firpo at Getafe (although Suarez’s deft lob did show excellent technique), but they did the job. They got the goals they needed, and then…then Barca defended.
They defended in numbers, getting ten men behind the ball whenever Getafe gained possession; they defended with discipline, keeping their collective shape and denying the opposition space on the ball; they defended with focus, avoiding sloppy errors around their penalty area which could have given the home team a route back into the game.
The outcome: a 2-0 win, job done, points in the bag, thanks to a first clean sheet of the season.
Later in the evening, Real Madrid followed a similar template to claim a worthy point at local rivals Atletico with an equally solid and organised performance.
For the third successive game, in fact, Los Blancos were so good defensively they did not allow their goalkeeper to make a single save – the most decisive action taken by Thibaut Courtois came in the first half, when he dived to parry a dangerous cross from Kieran Trippier and prevented it from reaching Diego Costa in the middle.
3 - Real Madrid have kept three consecutive clean sheets in LaLiga for the first time under Zinédine Zidane. Calmness. pic.twitter.com/NOMZd3iudy— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 28, 2019
It’s quite sobering to think that Real’s success in the last week, which has seen them claim seven points from three games against Sevilla, Osasuna and Atletico, has been rooted in defensive excellence.
Sure, there were nice goals from exciting young wingers Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes in the win over Osasuna, but the most important statistic for Zinedine Zidane’s men has been this one: goals conceded, zero.
The same applies to Barca. Getting their first road victory over the season did not require a touch of magic from Messi after all – it simply required a strong defensive performance, borne of a determined collective effort and good organisation.
And that’s the way it has to be. “Collective effort” and “good organisation” might not be the most exciting phrases in football, but they are – always have been and always will be – the basis of a successful team. Without those qualities, you are ripe for picking by any top-class side, as Real discovered ten days ago at Paris Saint-Germain and Barca famously found out at Anfield.
So don’t entirely forget about Messi, Benzema, Suarez and Hazard. Of course they have a big role to play. But defending matters a lot, too – and perhaps it matters even more.
Diego Simeone shared his thoughts after Atletico and Real drew 0-0 in the Madrid derby in La Liga on Saturday.
The Wanda Metropolitano staged a tight game of few clear-cut chances, although Atletico keeper Jan Oblak made two fine saves and Gareth Bale missed a great opening for Real.
The result keeps Zidane’s men one point ahead of their city rivals – and promoted Granada – at the top of the table but Barcelona are now within striking distance after their 2-0 win at Getafe, their first away victory in any competition since April.
See what the Atleti boss had to say in the video above: