As Barcelona face Sevilla on Friday, which line-up should Quique Setién select for matchday 30 of La Liga?
On Friday night, at 22:00 CET, Barcelona will have the tough challenge of visiting Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Three crucial points will be at stake in one of Spain’s most frightening stadiums for rivals, in spite of the absence of fans. Sevilla, third-placed in La Liga, are battling with the likes of Atlético de Madrid, Real Sociedad and Getafe to make the Champions League spots.
Meanwhile, with Real Madrid having five points less than Barcelona, but with a game in hand as they host Valencia this evening, the blaugranas cannot drop points if they want to have the advantage in the title race. Therefore, it seems sensible for Quique Setién to choose his best available line-up for matchday 30 of the league tournament.
That said, Setién will have several key absences tomorrow, with Frenkie de Jong having a calf strain, and Sergi Roberto a rib fracture. Both will miss the duel, as well as Samuel Umtiti, suspended, and Ousmane Dembélé, who won’t be available until August. With this in mind, how should Barça line up at Seville?
Marc-André ter Stegen
One of the few no-brainers in this XI. After clean sheets against Mallorca and Leganés, Ter Stegen has not been excessively challenged between the sticks in the past two games, but will face a difficult test against Sevilla’s threatening attack. While the German could be rested at some point, tomorrow does not seem the optimal day to do so.
With Sergi Roberto injured, it looks clear that Nélson Semedo will be deployed at right-back this time. The Catalan had been preferred by Quique in the first two post-pandemic matches, but on this occasion the Cantabrian manager only has one option, and that’s the Portuguese.
With the absence of Sergi Roberto, Nélson Semedo will start at right-back | Photo by Eric Alonso via Getty Images
In spite of Ronald Araújo‘s convincing performance against Mallorca last Saturday, this fixture against Sevilla isn’t much appropriate to rotate the main leader in defence. Gerard Piqué started in the past two matches, even if he had to be subbed out against Leganés after getting hurt in a clash with Leganés’ Roger Assalé. But, while Setién said that Piqué needed stitches, he has fully recovered now and is ready for another big encounter.
Clément Lenglet was one of the standout performers on Tuesday at the Camp Nou, making a key goal-line clearance when the scoreboard still showed a nil-nil draw. Moreover, as he had to miss the trip to Mallorca for suspension, Lenglet is rested as well and will partner up with Gerard Piqué at the back again.
With injuries and suspensions, the backline seems much more determined than all the other lines. Without Sergi Roberto and Umtiti, the picks at right-back and left centre-back are clear. But, with Sevilla’s threat and quality, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba continue to be irreplaceable in such big fixtures. Junior Firpo did impressively well against Leganés, assisting Ansu Fati for the opener, but Alba excelled at Mallorca too with a goal and an assist and will return from suspension tomorrow.
Sergio Busquets is another of the first names in the teamsheet at Barcelona, especially since Quique Setién was appointed in January. The azulgranas‘ metronome has reached his best level again under the new coach, and continues to set the tempo from deep midfield. Additionally, Setién gave him some minutes of rest both versus Mallorca and versus Leganés, as he wants to take close care of his form and fitness.
Here is where the thing gets spicy. For Setién, defensive midfield has often been for Sergio Busquets, left central midfield for one of Frenkie de Jong or Arthur Melo, and right central midfield for either Arturo Vidal or Iván Rakitić. Focusing on the right side first, Rakitić had a notable display against Leganés, working well off the ball and making the right moves to compensate Lionel Messi’s nature. That said, Vidal adds an extra bit of spark and energy, on and mostly off the ball. This dynamism was precisely what the culés lacked on Tuesday, especially in the first half.
❛ De Jong is a great player who gives us many things, but we do have players to replace him. I hope he recovers soon ❜
Besides, a case could be made for 20-year-old Riqui Puig. Riqui finally got a chance against Leganés, even if it was only twenty minutes in which he showcased his talent and vitality. Talking about merits, the young midfielder certainly deserves many more minutes with the first team than what he has got this season. Nonetheless, the La Masía graduate has only accumulated roughly 110 minutes in total with the senior side this campaign, so Setién may opt for other more established alternatives against nothing less than Sevilla. Still, with the several absences, Riqui could be getting more minutes as a substitute.
With Frenkie de Jong injured, there’s a free spot in the left side of midfield. On his day, Arthur Melo would be close to being irreplaceable in the team. However, he got a start against Leganés and did not seem to make the most out of it, adding little creativity in spite of his usual ball-retention skills. If Barça want to dominate possession, Arthur would be a much more preferable option than having both Vidal and Rakitić, but the Brazilian will need to step up at the Sánchez Pizjuán.
There are little doubts with this one. Apart from Marc-André ter Stegen, Lionel Messi is the only Barça player to have completed all 180 minutes in these opening two games. Furthermore, he has seemed to return in great form with two goals and two assists so far. The Argentinian will be vital against his favourite victim, Sevilla, against which he has scored a total of 37 goals. Now Messi is only one goal shy of his 700th, if we include those with Barcelona and the national team, and will be searching for it against the Nervionenses.
❛ Players such as Leo Messi are smart enough to decide when they need rest. They will warn me if they feel the need to be rotated out of the lineup. However, I will set the guidelines for when they play ❜
Upfront there will be more debate. Antoine Griezmann could be used up top again, but he did not seem as comfortable and productive as Luis Suárez normally is. Perhaps the problem with Griezmann is that he makes intelligent moves but he is not trusted by his teammates enough. In any case, Suárez’s connection and tireless job as the centre-forward makes him more difficult to handle for opposition defences. Luis is yet to start a game for the first time since his knee injury in January, but, if completely fit, he could be doing so this time.
❛ We will talk with Suárez and see if he is ready to start or not ❜
Here the debate is even more open, with up to three players competing for a single spot: Antoine Griezmann, Martin Braithwaite and Ansu Fati. If the criteria was the tactical impact in the side, the likes of Braithwaite and Ansu have a profile that benefits Barcelona and Lionel Messi more than Griezmann. The team needs directness and selfless off-ball movements, and Martin and Ansu provide just that. With Griezmann having started the last two games, maybe Setién could try a different trio on this occasion.
❛ While he plays out wide, he has a tendency to drift into the centre. We never instruct him to stay wide because he is not that dribbling kind of player ❜
on Antoine Griezmann
Ansu Fati comes from scoring against Leganés, while Martin Braithwaite did likewise against Mallorca. Still, for his maturity and experience, the Danish attacker may be more fitted for these high-pressure away matches. There is not only one right solution, though, and we must trust Quique Setién to get it right in this truly critical encounter.
3 lessons learned from Sevilla 0-2 Barcelona — Koeman’s changes win the game for Barça
Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over Sevilla might be Ronald Koeman’s biggest triumph as the Catalans’ coach. Of course, this by itself won’t win him anything just yet, but it could be the start of something big. With the new three points in the bag, the Azulgranas are now in second place, trailing behind the league leaders by only two points.
And it’s performances like the ones earlier this afternoon that can make us hopeful once again. Sevilla are an incredibly well-drilled team that’s also competing for the European spots in La Liga so taking them down with such dominance will surely both boost the morale and lay the groundwork for Barcelona’s future games.
But what exactly did we learn from today’s game?
1. Koeman’s changes paid off
It was quite bizarre of the coach not to change a single thing in the match that followed the disaster against Paris Saint-Germain. And naturally, when you do the same things over and over again but expect change, people will start doubting you. Luckily, however, Koeman has decided to innovate after all.
Today, we saw not only a change in the personnel but also in the system as well. The three in the back structure in attack and a 5-3-2 formation in defence with an aggressive press worked out beautifully. The team was highly effective at suffocating the opposition and not letting them play their game.
Sevilla were mostly pinned down in their own half and Julen Lopetegui’s troops had to rely on long balls to progress the play. Needless to say, despite having a clear target-man up top, that was never going to be a reliable strategy.
We are always quick to judge Koeman and his decisions so now, we have to give credit where it’s due and say his changes truly paid off. Whether this success was due to the tactics, the structure or the opposition’s lacking approach remains to be seen.
But this is a start and something to build upon. It’s important they don’t stop now.
2. Ousmane Dembele responds to his critics
Ousmane Dembele’s improvement has been palpable this season. The French winger has grown immensely and is finally turning into the player Barcelona need him to be: fast, lethal, decisive and most importantly, available week in, week out.
However, that hasn’t been the case throughout the whole campaign. Even though 2020/21 has seen him play a big number of games so far, and despite his dazzling displays, there was something missing in his performances. The spark was always there and that won’t change but we needed more.
Some of the clear chances he had missed haunted the team and while he isn’t the only one to be blamed for often being indecisive, that was his major weakness. But this Dembele is exactly what Barcelona had hoped for and more.
Ousmane Dembele has scored three goals vs Sevilla, more than vs any La Liga opponent in all competitions, involving in four out his last six games vs the Andalusian side.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 27, 2021
— Opta pic.twitter.com/vlRehokOBZ
This Dembele is a nightmare to mark and also deadly when in on goal. Earlier today, Sevilla experienced it first hand and now it’s all about building on this performance and ensuring it’s not just a one-game thing.
If the young winger can regularly provide for the team, there may be a bright future for him at the Camp Nou yet. And maybe it has something to do with his new central role, which was also one of Koeman’s innovations on the day.
It will be interesting to see where this takes him next.
3. Hay Liga
We started this article with a positive and we’ll end it with one as well. After such a brilliant display and a victory against a strong opponent, maybe we are now allowed to hope once more. Of course, Atletico Madrid are just two points ahead of Barcelona at the moment but have also played two games fewer than the Catalans.
This means the path towards the title is still very difficult and long. But at the same time, if this team can start taking scalps off of bigger teams and finally stand their ground, there truly may be a league to fight for after all.
Still, let’s not jump the gun here. We are allowed to be optimistic and should always be, even in the face of certain defeat. But it’s also important to take things slowly and not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of football to be played and a lot of points to be taken.
This team has shown us that they have the strength and the ability to win games and do it with style. But it’s all about that consistency now.
Can Barcelona keep the ball rolling and keep this good feeling alive? We can only hope so.
And then, who knows. After all, one can dream, right?