Barcelona welcomes Sevilla to Camp Nou on Sunday high on confidence and leading La Liga with the milestone of 50 points at the halfway stage of the season.
Only two sides have reached 100 points in the Spanish league’s history — Real Madrid in the 2011-12 season and Barcelona the following year. It is the fifth time Barcelona has earned that many points at this point of a campaign and four times it went on to lift the title.
Xavi Hernandez’s team has been exceptionally tight at the back, conceding just seven goals all season in the top flight, with new arrivals Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen key. Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has returned to his best form too, making the Catalans Europe’s meanest defence across the top five leagues.
By contrast opponents Sevilla is having its worst season for some time, although the roots of revival under Jorge Sampaoli are finally growing. The Andalusians, 13th, have won three of their past four league games, after only two victories in their first 15.
Extending their recent uptick in form will be difficult though, with Xavi proud of his team’s growth since taking over in November 2021. The coach arrived with Barcelona in ninth place last season and he steered it to second, qualifying for the Champions League. Even though it suffered an early elimination from that competition, Barcelona has been steadily improving and won its first trophy since the coach arrived in January, lifting the Spanish Super Cup.
Xavi has said the team’s main objective is to win La Liga and after the first 19 games left it as standalone leader, prospects look bright. “I don’t like drawing conclusions halfway through the season, everything can still be turned on its head,” Xavi said after an impressive midweek win at Real Betis.
“We have to match this first half. We are on a good path, but there are 19 more games to go — the numbers (so far) are extraordinary.”
Without injured winger Ousmane Dembele, Barca still earned a 2-1 win at the Benito Villamarin to hit 50 points. Dembele’s replacement Raphinha netted the opening goal, after a clever quickly-taken free-kick by Frenkie de Jong.
Xavi said the goal demonstrated his team was mentally ready to succeed this season. “It’s about attitude, competitiveness, desire, faith, our hopes are huge,” added the coach.
“We have confidence and the morale to achieve success.”
The Blaugrana are boosted by Robert Lewandowski’s return from suspension, with the Polish forward scoring his 14th league goal of the season against Betis.
Sevilla’s main outlet for goals, Youssef En-Nesyri, also hit a brace last weekend, ending his drought in the league. The Morocco striker had a fine World Cup but had failed to find the net in 15 La Liga appearances prior. If Sampaoli’s side is to maintain its improvement, it will have to do the near impossible — score against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
No side has managed it this season in La Liga from open play, with the Catalans keeping seven clean sheets in eight home games. Only Espanyol striker Joselu has beaten Ter Stegen there, from the penalty spot in the 1-1 derby draw in December.
Player to watch: Sergio Camello
Rayo Vallecano forward Sergio Camello, on loan from Atletico Madrid, has had a fine season, with his goals helping the Madrid minnow climb to seventh. The Spanish striker, 21, has netted five this season, most recently in the 1-0 win at Villarreal on Monday. With Almeria visiting, he can help Rayo keep pushing for a European qualification spot.
Fixtures (times IST)
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