Challenging weather, a tricky opposition, a red card, Barcelona’s second game of the season was anything but easy. The team came out with flying colours, with an impressive display despite being down a man. It is surely too early to judge, but Koeman seems to be winning hearts across the world. For the first time in years has the team not relied on individual brilliance to secure points. The relentless press when off the ball is refreshing, and timely substitutions are a cherry on the top. However, what sets a good and a great manager apart is how they respond when the team is down. And Koeman might be put to the first of many such tests on Sunday night when Barcelona take on Sevilla at the Camp Nou.
What to expect from Sevilla
Sevilla is a club synonymous with character passion and fight. Over the years, they have not only competed fiercely with Barcelona and Real Madrid but also dominated the Europa League, of which they are yet again the defending champions. Julen Lopetegui has lost important players in Ever Banega, Simon Kjaer and Sergio Reguilon. Nevertheless, his squad has seen valuable additions in Ivan Rakitic, Suso and Marcos Acuna.
As has always been the case, the fullbacks are the major source of attacking threat for Sevilla this season too. Captain Jesus Navas has led the way in creating chances on the right-wing. In the matchday 4 victory over Levante, Navas had 9 crosses with 4 key passes and an assist. With Lucas Ocampos ahead of him preferring to cut into the central areas, the duo forms a deadly combination. The left flank is no less threatening, with Sergio Escudero occupying quite an advances position for a fullback.
Given the fullbacks play highly advanced positions, Lopetegui has opted for 1, sometimes 2 midfielders to play a defensive part alongside the centre-backs Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde. The midfield options are extensive, however, Fernando and Rakitic are expected to start with the former in a more defensive role. The third spot could be filled in by Oliver Torres or Joan Jordan.
The attack for Lopetegui has usually involved 2 wingers who prefer to cut in, possibly Suso and Ocampos. As the target-man, the coach may opt for Luuk de Jong who can prove to be a massive aerial threat.
Sevilla under Lopetegui has been known for its high press. The team prefer to keep the ball, setting up a clash of similar styles against Barcelona. The last time the 2 sides faced off at the Camp Nou the visitors deployed heavy man-marking, thereby putting pressure on every player. Barcelona’s central defenders and the defensive midfielder, in particular, were the epicentres of Sevilla’s press, forcing de Jong to lose the ball often.
How should Barcelona line-up?
Things will be different when the heavyweights face off again because such an approach would be difficult to operate against Koeman’s double pivot system. However with the fullbacks tasked more defensively, The Dutch manager will have to look for alternate options to generate attacks. While the wingers will be crucial to generate attacks, they also need to function as the first line of defence. Given the weight of the clash, Koeman will not look to make wholesale changes.
Lionel Messi will once again be the spearhead with Ansu Fati to his left and Coutinho behind him. Fati can be a real menace for Jesus Navas and would be the best hope of pinning the Sevilla captain behind. Coutinho will have to deliver again if Barcelona is to create any openings in the centre. With all credit to his off the ball movement and importance, Koeman should look for options beyond Griezmann on Sunday night. His central positioning may create a weakness in Escudero’s niche, thereby forming a centre for the origin of counters. Both Dembele and Trincao would be great options, but given the cloud over Ousmane’s future, expect Trincao to get a first start.
In midfield, one would expect Frenkie de Jong to start once again. However, Miralem Pjanic would be crucial against Los Palanganas. The advanced fullbacks provide the right stage for the Bosnian to display what he is capable of. His impeccable ability to link with the wingers over the top could be a source of many worries for Lopetegui.
Despite the arrival of Sergino Dest, it would be surprising it Sergi Roberto does not start the game. After a great defensive display against Celta, there are few doubts. His role, however, will depend on whether it is Trincao or Griezmann who starts. If it is the Frenchman, things can get tricky for Roberto. Expect Jordi Alba to get another start this season, with full credit to his displays so far. He will be largely under the spotlight however, going head to head against Jesus Navas.
Clement Lenglet’s suspension leaves no suspense as to who will start. The thin squad means that Ronald Araujo will get his first start of the season alongside Gerard Pique. Though Lenglet’s long balls will be missed, the Uruguayan’s imposing aerial dominance could be a blessing in disguise. The game will undoubtedly witness relentless attempts to find the head of Luuk de Jong, but Araujo and Pique might just be the best combination to tackle it. In goal, undoubtedly it will be Neto Murara once again after he has maintained 2 clean sheets in 2 starts this season
Sergi Roberto • Araújo • Piqué • Jordi Alba
Pjanić • De Jong
Trincão • Coutinho • Ansu Fati
Barcelona player ratings vs Sevilla — Hosts unable to get past Mingueza, the wall
Turning headless chickens into mature students of the game turned out to be Ronald Koeman’s biggest achievement at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where the Catalan giants had recently just suffered a disappointing loss. On the score-sheet, the margin may not have looked considerable, but on the field, Barcelona were pretty much untouchable, courtesy in large parts to the structural change made by Koeman.
A performance this cohesive and harmonized was much needed after the countless defeats Barça have suffered on the big stage. Everything Cules have strived to see in this team, was present, and while consistency has been the club’s biggest hurdle, this win undoubtedly holds a great deal of significance.
The Blaugranas have arguably exerted more energy in other games over the course of the campaign, but the spirit Barcelona lacked suddenly came to life. The pressing was in sync, every move was calculated and well crafted. Playing the Barcelona way in hostile territory against a team as dominant as Sevilla brought back life into a team devoid of wins in high magnitude encounters.
Marc-André Ter Stegen: 7
Ter Stegen oozed confidence as he came off his line and claimed the ball several times. Not only did he display composure, but the German rushed out of his box on one occasion to clear the ball and remove any danger that Sevilla’s potential attack possessed. With the exception of a poor pass, his distribution was immaculate. Even so, it must be admitted that the Sevilla forwards barely tested ter Stegen in goal with dangerous attempts on target.
Oscar Mingueza: 8.5
Oscar Mingueza was a vital reason as to why the Blaugrana defence was impenetrable. Piementa’s prodigy did not allow Lopetegui’s men to advance into any areas on the right side of the field. He won 6 out his 9 duels along winning 5 tackles, proving the 21-year-old’s precise ball-winning abilities remain crucial. Not to mention, his exceptional ball-playing ability enabled Barça to play with a high line thus applying further pressure on Sevilla.
Pique was the nail in the coffin to Barça’s counter-pressing strategies. The players would press the Sevilla Keeper and force him to heave the ball away, and this is where Pique’s aerial ability flourished, which particularly authorized the Catalans to regain possession. The Spanish veteran won 5 out of 7 of his aerial duels, thus showing his dominance in that area of play. His distribution was reliable as always and allowed the Catalans to retain a high defensive line at selected times.
The Frenchman is on route to recovering the form he once had, and this performance should do his confidence a world of good. Still prone to making errors, he dealt with Sevilla’s threat in a respectable manner. An improvement was observed in his ability to stay ahead of his man, which led to his positioning being marginally better. His second-half performance was key to the win as he stepped up after Pique and Ronald Araujo had to be subbed off. Lenglet must be appreciated for his tackling as they successfully neutralized a few well-structured attacks from the hosts.
Sergiño Dest: 7
Despite typically being perceived as a full-back, Ronald Koeman handed Dest the responsibility to play higher up the field as a right-wing-back. The American speedster enjoyed his new role with piercing runs behind Sevilla’s defence and looked a lot more explosive, with defensive cover behind him.
Sergino Dest vs Sevilla:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 28, 2021
• Touches: 58
• Accurate passes: 36/42 (86%)
• Shots: 2
• Ground duels (won): 4 (2)
• Fouls won: 2
• Clearances: 2
• Interceptions: 2
— SofaScore pic.twitter.com/IjN74fDwhc
Dest launched a couple of promising crosses, but a major issue was that he shied away from entering 1v1 duels and instinctively looked to send in crosses. The US international also came oh-so-close to scoring after striking the post on one occasion.
Jordi Alba: 7.5
Similar to his wing-back partner in crime, Jordi Alba raided forward at any given opportunity, stretching the play wide and utilizing his raw pace throughout. Without having to worry about his defensive duties, the marauding Spaniard looked a lot more imposing. He was just inches away from tapping the ball into the opposition net after proceedings.
Frenkie de Jong: 8.5
De Jong’s season just proceeds to take massive leaps as the Dutchman proved to be a defining factor in the Catalans’ applaudable 2-0 victory. In spite of not stamping his name on the score-sheet, De Jong’s performance was worthy of endless praise, almost making it seem as if he was carrying around an extra pair of lungs. The former Ajax wonderboy surged forward, breaking the opposition’s lines tirelessly and constantly squirming his way out of tight areas.
Sergio Busquets: 7.5
The ageing veteran appeared to be recreating glimpses from the past as his counter-pressing was absolutely decisive in the Catalans’ attacking plays. Sergio Busquets – unlike most big game he has participated in – was not cheaply bullied off the ball and made possession purposeful for the Blaugranas. With defensive aid behind him, Busquets was back to his brilliant best.
The cog in Ronald Koeman’s midfield was once again a trusty figure in midfield and managed to string together some impressive plays in what appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation. Though Pedri’s involvement was substantially lower than usual, his display was mainly impeded by an injury he suffered in the 71st minute, disabling him from completing the full 90 minutes.
Lionel Messi: 8.5
Against his favourite opposition, Lionel Messi savoured the occasion to the fullest. The Argentine was an influential figure in the club’s victory away from home, with his creativity and efficiency in front of goal second to none. In the 29th minute of the game, Leo spotted a raiding Ousmane Dembélé through on goal as he bagged himself an assist for the Frenchman’s finish.
To cap off his outing, Barcelona’s captain weaved his way past a couple of Sevilla defenders and, after failing to chip the keeper, delicately slotted it into the net.
Ousmane Dembélé: 8
Sevilla were haplessly left chasing Ousmane Dembélé’s shadows. The Frenchman – without having to worry about his defensive tasks – waltzed forward continuously and enjoyed playing as a secondary striker, making runs in behind the defence and eventually proving his worth with a beautifully placed goal just before the half-hour mark. A much more mature and composed exhibition from the electric winger.
Ilaix Moriba: 7
Ronald Araujo: N/A
Martin Braithwaite: N/A
Samuel Umtiti: N/A