How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Sevilla

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How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Sevilla
Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press
Lionel Messi has yet to hit top form since returning from injury.

Barcelona head to Sevilla and the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on the back of a surprising defeat to Valencia.

The manner of that loss, and a subsequent failure to convert dominance into goals against Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey, has seen irate Cules take to Twitter to vent their ire:

The knives are out again for Tata Martino, as they were after the defeats at Ajax and Athletic Bilbao, and you have to wonder how much more criticism the manager will put up with before making good on his promise to leave the club, per Football Espana.

Once again Martino is suffering because of his pragmatism. The "Guardiolisation" of the team has gone. That was then. This is now.

The all-conquering Pep sides were the benchmark for football teams everywhere. Guillem Balague noted in his book on the ex-Barca manager (quotation via Guillem's website):

Pep Guardiola won fourteen trophies in only four seasons as a manager.

FC Barcelona earned three points in one hundred seventy-seven games and scored seven hundred twenty-three goals during Guardiola's tenure.

An impressive total of twenty-two members from the youth ranks were given their senior club debuts.

The sheer numbers attained during the Guardiola era stare at us from printed pages, force us to blink, and then take another glance to convince ourselves they are indeed real.

To suggest that Barca should keep on repeating that kind of success year-on-year, with players who are getting older and teams who are wiser and more adept at playing against the Blaugrana, is fanciful at best.

And looking at the stats from the Sociedad game, you would have to wonder where all of the negativity comes from:

What's interesting is that the fickle fans who are suggesting Tata's Barca aren't up to the job, are the same people that had earmarked his and Neymar's arrival as a brave new dawn for the Blaugrana.

It seems the sky has fallen in at Camp Nou since the Brazilian's injury and subsequent fall-out from his transfer fee shenanigans.

Certainly there are issues in the team that need resolving, but a "root and branch" spring clean isn't necessary.

After another below-par display in the centre of defence, Martino would do well to seriously consider leaving Javier Mascherano out of the starting line-up on Sunday.

With Marc Bartra waiting patiently on the sidelines and the Argentine being exposed time and again in the position, it makes no sense to continue with the same central defensive partnership.

Alberto Saiz/Associated Press
Marc Bartra should be restored to the centre of Barca's defence.

If Martino sees Bartra as a long-term prospect, then Carles Puyol should come back in to galvanize the back four.

Dani Alves will not want to miss a trip to his former employers but it could be pertinent to rest the Brazilian.

Barca approach four games in nine days, including a Copa del Rey semi final second leg and a trip to Manchester City in the Champions League, and Martin Montoya has shown himself to be an able replacement on the right side.

Gerard Pique should easily neutralise the laboured build-up play of Kevin Gameiro and Carlos Bacca, although the effervescent and omnipresent Ivan Rakitic will provide much more of a threat from central midfield. 

If the Croatian's work rate isn't curtailed in the early stages, then it's unlikely Barca will get a firm foothold in this one. La Liga player of the month for January (per SkySports) speaks for itself.

Jose Antonio Reyes's penchant for cutting inside could also prove problematic for Jordi Alba. A natural urge to bomb forward will need to be suppressed as both Reyes and Rakitic work his left-hand side.

Andres Iniesta has been left on the periphery since returning from injury and may continue to be rested, with an eye on the other fixtures. For the same reason, Sergio Busquets will also sit this one out.

Cesc Fabregas will continue in a floating midfield role alongside Xavi Hernandez, with Alex Song completing the midfield.

Neymar is almost back at full fitness, as shown by the official club website, but it would be folly to throw him back in now and risk his further participation later. Therefore, we shouldn't expect to see him for any part of this game.

A cameo in the second leg of the semi-final is far more likely, followed by a full part in Manchester.

Federico Fazio and Nicolas Pareja haven't enjoyed the best campaign for the hosts. Despite a lofty seventh position in the table, a goal difference of only four is telling.

Sevilla's 41 goals in their 22 games is a decent return, but 37 conceded is their reality.  

With Alexis Sanchez bang in form, and both Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez weighing in as necessary, this could be a long 90 minutes for a team without a win in four, including a surprise home loss to Levante last time out. 

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