A final test before the international break awaits FC Barcelona, and it is their toughest yet under Ronald Koeman.
Sevilla might not have won at the Camp Nou since 2002, but they are in one of their best moments in an age through having lifted the Europa League before taking Barça’s 8-2 bully boys Bayern Munich to extra time in the Supercup recently.
“We know that Sevilla are a strong team, who aspire to [achieve] many things every year,” Koeman stressed at his prematch press conference yesterday. “They’ve got a good coach and [play] a complicated game. If we [play] well at home, as [we have] in the last two games, we have a lot in our favor. It’s a 90 minute fight. We’re confident we can take advantage of [our form].”
Said form sees the Blaugrana boasting a perfect record of 5-0 over three preseason friendlies and two La Liga clashes on the Dream Team legend’s watch, with extra encouragement taken from the gutsy road victory at Celta Vigo on Thursday where Barça had not won in five years and continued pressing even with 10 men.
And it is that latter development, a product of Clement Lenglet receiving his second yellow card of the evening approaching halftime, that should bring about the only major change to Koeman’s starting XI.
In goal, then, Neto will hope to continue a fine run standing in for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and keep a third consecutive clean sheet.
Across the backline, Jordi Alba starts at left back while Gerard Pique is partnered by young Uruguayan Ronald Araujo in Lenglet’s suspension-imposed absence.
Sergino Dest has been registered in time to make the matchday squad list reproduced above, yet Sergi Roberto begins at right back with Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets guaranteeing double pivot support.
Barça’s three goal hero in the Spanish top flight, Ansu Fati mans the left wing while a similarly in-form double assist provider Philippe Coutinho inhabits central attacking midfield.
Interchanging with a struggling Antoine Griezmann between false 9 and the right flank, a rejuvenated Lionel Messi “delighted” by Koeman’s plan and physical preparation work looks to improve impressive numbers against his favorite victims.
Thus far, over the course of a storied career, the Ballon d’Or holder has managed no less than 37 goals in 39 outings at their expense.
Unfortunately there will be no paying public to welcome him back, but Ivan Rakitic should still be treated to a warm reception at his former place of employment after rejoining Sevilla in the summer.