Barcelona and Sevilla is one of the rivalries of the season.
Both have silverware on their mind with a spot in the Copa del Rey final at stake on Wednesday. Both are also comfortably in the top four in La Liga but with a chance to pull ahead in the race for next year’s Champions League with a win on Saturday.
For Barca, beating Sevilla and taking the heat off this race would be significant in their rebuilding efforts, offering the chance to experiment and take chances the rest of the way.
It won’t be easy with Sevilla on a six-game winning streak domestically, but a win would be a great way to build confidence ahead of the Copa semi-final.
After the PSG humiliation, it was disappointing to see Ronald Koeman choose the same lineup against Cadiz.
The plan backfired, and against Elche we finally saw some new ideas and fresh faces.
Martin Braithwaite, as Jason Pettigrove highlighted, deserves playing time for being a shinning example of hard work and humility. PSG reminded Barcelona that these qualities are lacking systemically. Braithwaite has shown the power of these qualities to produce results individually, and for elevating teammates.
The big debate is who to play on the wing. Is choosing between Francisco Trincao and Ousmane Dembele a false choice? Maybe they could work together, it’s worth trying. Regardless, they can provide healthy competition for one another.
Koeman, risk averse most of the time, will likely take the same approach against a strong team like Sevilla.
It would be a sign of his commitment to rotating and creating competition, however, if we see the likes of Riqui Puig, Ilaix Moriba, Junior Firpo, and Konrad de la Fuente get into the mix.
Even a player like Pedri would benefit from the competition. You wouldn’t want to see him become complacent because all he ever receives is praise, even on days when he looks less effective. A rest would do him well too.
Would Barca be better served with a return to the 4-2-3-1?
I say knock yourself out with the experimentation, but be ready to make adjustments quickly when needed.
One thing is clear to me about the 4-2-3-1. Messi’s best position there is as the number 10. Putting him anywhere else throws off the balance, and if that’s the case the team as a whole would be better off with a 4-3-3.
Surrounding Messi with dynamic wings, Dembele and Trincao for example, and a skilled number nine in the box, like Braithwaite, could generate creative combinations and firepower in all directions.
One major drawback is you don’t get what Frenkie de Jong and Pedri have been providing offensively.
There are no perfect solutions, but establishing a dynamic rotation of players that are flexible from game to game using different formations would be beneficial.
The key is putting players in their natural positions where their talents are maximized.
Sevilla is pretty much always an overachieving team.
Much like the Unai Emery teams of the past, this version under Julen Lopetegui is well coached and capable of producing a result against any team on any day.
But Barca is still Barca, and Sevilla is still Sevilla.
As the old adage goes, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
This is the difference between the two teams. Barca has the talent, Sevilla has the work ethic.
If Barca fights hard they have the advantage. If they don’t, good luck.
Sevilla will be organized defensively, and they have goalscorers like Youssef En-Nesyri and Luuk de Jong who know their way to the goal.
Also, as a side note, Joules Kounde is the future of the defending. What a dream it would be to bring him to Barcelona one day.
Barcelona has a golden opportunity to make lemonade by beating Sevilla on Saturday, and going on to give them a game of it in the Copa semi-final on Tuesday.
Here’s to hoping they can get the train back on the tracks.