Barcelona aiming to enter LaLiga title race at crucial stage as Sevilla pipedream hangs by a thread

By Sports Desk April 02, 2022

Football is fickle. It doesn't take long for outlooks and perceptions to be flipped on their head, and nowhere is that truer right now than in LaLiga.

As recently as mid-February, Real Madrid's lead at the summit – which they have held since matchday three – was only four points over Sevilla, who themselves were 11 ahead of a Barcelona side languishing in fifth.

But as we head into Sunday's clash between Barca and Sevilla at Camp Nou, the Blaugrana know they will go up to second and above Julen Lopetegui's men in the table with a win, and they'd still have a game in hand.

Xavi has overseen a massive improvement and, following the 4-0 Clasico win prior to the international break, Barca have the opportunity to make another statement this weekend.

It's not over yet

While sympathy will be in short supply given what's been a largely excellent season for them in LaLiga, Sevilla have undoubtedly gone through a tricky period.

When Anthony Martial was brought in on loan from Manchester United in late January, it was initially seen as a move that would go one of two ways: the Frenchman was either going to be electric and give Sevilla the extra push they needed to challenge Madrid, or he would fail to get over the ineffectiveness that had begun to engulf him at Old Trafford.

Suffice to say Martial will not be back at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan next season – or at least not as a Sevilla player.

Lopetegui has had to contend with something of an injury crisis for much of the past three months, which to a certain degree makes it surprising they are only nine points off the top. Further to that, if Sevilla avoid defeat at Barca, they will set a new club record for their best unbeaten run in a single top-flight season (16 games).

 

But that stat flatters them, significantly. Of the most recent nine games in that run, Sevilla have won just twice. Five of their seven draws have come away from home against mostly mid-table opposition, plus struggling Deportivo Alaves. They've not scored more than twice in any league game since October.

As such, it's difficult to see how they can contend with a reinvigorated and in-form Barcelona this weekend – but whichever way it goes, assuming it's not a draw, there's every reason to believe Sunday's showdown could genuinely reignite a title race.

Polar opposites

While victory for Barca would propel them up to second for the first time this season, they will also still have a game in hand on Los Blancos. A nine-point deficit won't be easy to turn around over nine matches, but Madrid do still have trips to Atletico and Sevilla to traverse, and they have the added 'distraction' of the Champions League, at least for the time being.

A win for Sevilla would be momentous, not least because they've failed to get a single league success at Camp Nou since December 2002.

Such a scalp over a team that has won seven more points (from one game fewer) in 2022 could be the boost a flagging Sevilla need to finish the season strong. It would surely improve their belief ahead of Madrid's visit next month.

But at this point, Barca look far more likely to offer a threat to Madrid in the final weeks of the season, with Sevilla's slide in the second half of 2021-22 threatening to completely derail their campaign.

Frustrated by a lack of goals and an almost chronic inability to convert draws into wins, Los Nervionenses have won just four league games this year. While their lack of defeats is commendable, they've scored more than only six teams in 2022 – a group that includes each of the bottom four in the table.

 

Lopetegui has been rightly praised throughout his time at Sevilla for building a team that is extremely difficult to break down, with only Manchester City (53) bettering their 49 clean sheets across the big five leagues since his appointment in 2019, and that's obviously played a part in their unbeaten run.

But there have been numerous times in the past few months where fans have been crying out for more attacking emphasis, and it's for this reason that it's hard to imagine Lopetegui was ever truly a candidate to take over at Manchester United before he ruled himself out, even if he was genuinely on their four-man shortlist.

Whereas Barcelona, whose dealings in January really ignited something in Xavi's squad, have scored 27 goals since the turn of the year and also been tight at the back, with their seven concessions only bettered by Sevilla.

Something has to give

A potentially key aspect of Sunday's showdown will be how well Barca press. No one has scored more goals (six) than them from high turnovers in LaLiga this season, with four of those coming since Xavi's appointment.

Playing into that is the fact Sevilla like to play out from the back. This is reflected by them seeing 222 high turnovers recorded against them this season, the third most in LaLiga, but only two have led to a goal – just three teams have conceded fewer goals from such situations.

This is evidence of how effective Sevilla are regrouping, but such an approach will be risky against a Barca side in such imperious goal-scoring form and clearly useful at winning the ball back in advanced areas – Osasuna (253) are the one team with more high turnovers than the Blaugrana (248).

Turning over Madrid's lead in LaLiga will be a rather different proposition, but success on Sunday certainly won't dampen Barca's outlook.

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