There will be no let-up for Barcelona after they were unravelled by the intense pressing of Manchester City, with the La Liga champions set for a gruelling encounter with a new look Sevilla side marshalled by attacking zealot Jorge Sampaoli on Sunday.
The Argentine coach has turned Sevilla’s playing style on its head in little more than three months in charge, ripping up predecessor Unai Emery’s formula of defensive organisation and counterattacking, replacing it with a forward thinking approach that prioritises possession and relentless harassing of opponents.
Sampaoli has taken Sevilla to fourth in the table on 21 points, one behind Barca in second, while his team top Champions League Group H on 10 points after easing to a 4-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.
He has also won every game in the league and Europe at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, only losing the Spanish Super Cup first leg against Barca in August.
The former Chile coach has admitted to being heavily influenced by Pep Guardiola, Barca’s most decorated coach ever and the mastermind behind City’s 3-1 victory over the Catalans on Wednesday in Manchester.
Luis Enrique’s side collapsed in the second half at the Etihad Stadium under the weight of City’s probing energy and the coach will have to find new ways to cope with the similar threat Sevilla are set to provide.
Barca are still missing midfield maestro Andres Iniesta and influential defender Gerard Pique through injury while Jordi Alba is a doubt, and their injury problems are heightened by an alarming loss of form in players they often rely upon.
Sergi Roberto, one of Barca’s brightest performers this term, was caught out by City, gifting the ball away for Ilkay Gundogan’s equaliser, while Sergio Busquets produced another worrying display in what has been an inconsistent season for the Spain midfielder.
Luis Suarez, top scorer in the league last season with 40 goals, has found the net just twice in his last seven games, while goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and defender Samuel Umtiti were widely criticised by the Spanish press for their displays in Manchester.
Yet while Barca look far from the finished article that romped to the title last season, they have a habit of bouncing back emphatically, reacting to a shock defeat to Alaves by hammering Celtic 7-0, and thrashing Deportivo 4-0 after their last league defeat to Celta.
“We have to get up and keep going. We never sit back when we win and we don’t sink when we lose,” said Luis Enrique.
Elsewhere, leaders Real Madrid host Leganes on Sunday after a chaotic 3-3 draw at Legia Warsaw on Wednesday, while third placed Atletico Madrid visit Real Sociedad on Saturday.
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