A Barça victory over Sevilla at the Sánchez Pizjuán tomorrow (Saturday 8 pm) would be a massive step towards winning La Liga 2014/15 while providing an excellent boost going into Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final at Paris Saint Germain. However, the task is enormous as Unai Emery’s team are unbeaten at home in all competitions this season and they arrive to tomorrow’s game on a run of seven straight wins.
It will be a tough test but Barça have proved to be the most in-form team in Europe with nine consecutive victories since the defeat to Malaga, making it 20 wins from 21 games since losing at Anoeta at the start of January. Unfortunately, preparation for tomorrow’s match has been interrupted by the news that Dani Alves has turned down Barça’s offer of a new contract making it very likely that the Brazilian will leave the club this summer.
It has to be said that the club seem to have made a mess over the Alves case. The board disregarded the seriousness of FIFA over the transfer ban, failed to secure a decent substitute for the player last summer, and now they have waited far too long before making an offer which has practically obliged him to listen to offers from other clubs.
There are culés who will say that Alves is past his best or that he is the weakest link in our team right now. There may well be some truth to this but it is also clear that there is a lack of decent right-backs on the market when Barça get round to finding a replacement, The current back-up for Alves of Adriano, Montoya and Douglas may be adequate as back-up this season while Mascherano and Bartra offer alternatives for the role, but if Alves leaves this summer it looks like we could have a serious right-back problem for the first half of next season.
As Barça prepare for Sevilla there is also concern over the form of another Brazilian, Neymar Jr who hasn’t scored since March 4 against Villarreal in the Copa del Rey. Could it be that he is affected by the ongoing case over his transfer to Barça as he has now been called to declare as a witness? It may not seem a big deal as nobody is accusing Neymar of any wrongdoing but surely anybody would feel uncomfortable if they had to give evidence against their boss. With Barça pushing for a treble we need Neymar back to his best and this situation does little to help. Another reason to vote out the present board in the summer’s elections.
Neymar was rested for the 4-0 win over Almeria on Wednesday along with Piqué, Mathieu, Busquets and Iniesta. These players plus fit-again Jordi Alba could all return against Sevilla though Mathieu might stay on the bench if Luis Enrique decides to restore the Piqué-Mascherano partnership. With a complete squad available, except for Vermaelen who has set the home game with Getafe at the end of the month as his target for his first appearance, the Barça coach will no doubt put out his strongest side which could be formed by Bravo, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez and Neymar.
The Sánchez Pizjuán will be full to its 45,500 capacity and Sevilla’s recent form and unbeaten home record makes the challenge all the more daunting. However, recent history is on our side as Barça have won five and drawn two in the last seven seasons since Sevilla’s last victory in the corresponding fixture in 2007. Also in Barça’s favour is Emery’s record of never beating us. Hopefully the Sevilla coach will continue his negative record against us and Barça can return home with all three points.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Mathieu, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Rakitic, Rafinha, Pedro, Neymar, Messi, Suárez.
Sevilla: Rico; Coke, Pareja, Carriço, Tremoulinas; Banega, Krychowiak; Vidal, Iborra, Vitolo; Bacca.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
My bet: correct score: Sevilla 0 Barça 1 (current odds 12.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Saturday 11 April 2015. Kick-off 8 pm local time.