Barça face Sevilla tomorrow night (Saturday kick off 8pm local time) at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. The news of Eric Abidal’s illness is a reminder that football is only a game and there are often more important things in life. The news will have come as a big blow to the other players but Eric will no doubt have urged them to do everything they can to win the three points tomorrow. With just twelve games remaining in La Liga there is no room for slip-ups if we are to maintain any sort of pressure on leaders Real Madrid.
Besides Abidal, Pep Guardiola will also be without the injured Afellay, Fontas and Villa though the good news is that Thiago Alcantara and Alexis Sanchez have trained normally with the group and will both travel for the game. Guardiola has yet to pronounce whether he will continue as Barça’s first team coach next season despite reports in yesterday’s Sport that he has decided to sign for another season. It could just be, of course, that he has decided not to announce anything due to Abidal’s situation.
Sevilla are having a pretty poor season by their standards despite being the only team to take a point at Camp Nou after Javi Varas saved Leo Messi’s last minute penalty. Since then the ex-Real Madrid player Michel has taken over from Marcelino Garcia Toral as coach and restored the 38-year-old Andrés Palop as first choice keeper. Sevilla’s top scorer last season Alvaro Negredo has been struggling with injuries and he is doubtful to play while Coke and Fazio are suspended but Freddy Kanoute, Gary Medel, Emir Spahic should all return to the team.
I’ve posted the match preview early this week because I want to mention the Champions League draw. Unfortunately, I will be busy all day so I won’t be able to make a post immediately after the draw as I would have liked. I will post a comment here later tonight on our opponents but I have to say I would love it if we got Madrid now in the quarter finals. Of the other teams I think Milan, Bayern and Chelsea are the most dangerous but also the most attractive opponents.
We know Milan well after meeting in the group stages and they will always be dangerous over a two-leg tie. They showed all their strengths and weaknesses in the two recent games with Arsenal but it is unlikely that we will see a repeat of their poor first half at the Emirates if they face us. Players like Robinho and Ibrahimovic can both be lethal on a good night while Kevin-Prince Boateng showed against Arsenal and against us that he is capable of surprising with spectacular goals.
Bayern will be especially dangerous given their desire to reach the final in their own Allianz Arena stadium. Mario Gomez is the only player who seems to have a chance of stopping Leo Messi ending the tournament as the top scorer after his four goals against Basel. But the real stars are Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben with strong supporting cast of Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Chelsea achieved a heroic comeback to defeat Napoli on Wednesday and with new coach Roberto di Matteo taking over from Andre Villas-Boas they will be hoping to turn around a disappointing season. AVB had been trying to rejuvenate the aging Chelsea team but was criticized for dropping established players like Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba. Di Matteo may be the man who can get the best out of the older players, especially as for players like Lampard, Cole, Drogba, Terry and Essien the time is running out if they want to add a Champions League winners medal to their collections. These players will also be keen to get revenge for the controversial semi-final exit after Iniesta’s last minute goal three years ago
Benfica Marseilla and Apoel would appear to be the easier of the possible opponents. Benfica finished above Basel and Manchester United in the group stage before beating Zenit St. Petersburg in the last 16. Marseilla finished behind Arsenal in Group F before knocking out Inter Milan on away goals. But the biggest surprise is to see Apoel who finished top of Group G above Zenit, Porto and Shakhtar before an incredible penalties victory over Lyon.
To sum up quickly my order of preference for opponents is as follows: Real Madrid, Benfica, Marseilla, Apoel, Bayern, Milan, Chelsea.
Barça’s possible starting lineup vs Sevilla: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol; Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Iniesta.
My prediction: Sevilla 1 Barça 3