MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) European NAP heads to Spain on Saturday night for what's expected to be an exciting Copa del Rey final in Madrid.
Sevilla v Barcelona | Saturday 21st April 2018, 20:30 | Sky Sports
There’s an odd feeling around Barcelona at the minute.
The Blaugrana were dumped out of the Champions League at the quarter-final phase after a shambolic 3-0 defeat in Rome, shattering dreams of a treble-winning season in Ernesto Valverde’s first campaign in charge.
Unsurprisingly, the fall out in the Catalan capital was messy. So much so that, last weekend’s unconvincing victory over Valencia – a result that broke a Spanish record for the longest unbeaten league run in La Liga history – was barely greeted by anything more than half-hearted applause.
For Barcelona’s season to be a success, they simply must secure Copa del Rey glory on Saturday night at the Wanda Metropolitano, clinch the league title and hope bitter rivals Real Madrid don’t go the distance in Europe. Fickle? Absolutely. Genuine? You bet.
Barcelona’s Copa del Rey pedigree
Barca are warm 4/9 (William Hill) favourites to seal the deal in 90 minutes against Sevilla and having featured in seven of the past nine Copa del Rey finals, they’re accustomed to the occasion. In all five fixtures where Real Madrid weren’t opposing the Catalans, the Bluagrana won without extra-time.
And unusually for domestic cup finals, goals have been rife. Four of those five games against sides other than Real Madrid featured Over 2.5 Goals with Barcelona plundering 13 goals. A similar scenario looms on Saturday.
Having rested the bulk of his squad for their midweek match at Celta Vigo, Valverde should be able to bring back Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic back into the fray despite all carrying knocks.
The Rakitic/Busquets double pivot has proved adept at shielding the defence this season, and it will be needed again here given that Samuel Umtiti is experiencing his worst form since arriving at the club. In fact, the Blaugrana’s backline has waned in recent weeks with the Catalans leaking goals in each of their last six games.
Sevilla aiming for more cup glory
Cup specialists Sevilla are playing in their 15th final this century and the Andalusians will take heart from their display against Barcelona in La Liga action just three weeks ago at their Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan home.
That night, Vincenzo Montella’s men had the unbeaten table-toppers on the ropes until they eventually ran out of steam, allowing substitute Lionel Messi to find a way to provide the Catalans with an underserving 2-2 draw.
Further encouragement was offered by their cavalier and all-action performances against Bayern Munich and Manchester United in the Champions League. True, Sevilla have blown hot and cold since the Italian began his stint at the club, but they showed they’re more than capable of ruffling a few feathers.
Neither Wissam Ben Yedder nor Luis Muriel played in midweek as Montella rotated his troops with this match in mind and both have the ability to stretch the Barcelona backline. Elsewhere, Sevilla will raid down the flanks, whilst the rampaging runs of Steven Nzonzi should allow Ever Banega space to play.
However, they do have their weaknesses. Simon Kjaer’s hamstring injury means the defence looks unbalanced with Jesus Navas filling at full-back and sides like Real Madrid and Eibar have put Los Rojiblancos to the sword when pushing their full-backs back and attacking Sevilla with vigour early on.
The betting angle
Games between these two teams to be very watchable affairs and I’m anticipating another thriller here. Barcelona have only been beaten twice in their past 22 meetings with Sevilla – triumphing on 14 occasions – and I’m happy to support the favourites again alongside Over 2.5 Goals at 10/11 (Ladbrokes).
Sevilla have won just once in 10 games against current top-six sides in Spain, conceding an average of 3.10 goals per-game. Seven of those contests produced Over 3.5 Goals profit as they’ve managed to net at least twice on five occasions.
Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score has proven profitable in 12 of the previous 16 head-to-heads, whilst the most recent 14 fixtures have all crossed the Over 2.5 Goals whitewash, suggesting there’s every chance another goal-fest could be on the cards in the capital.
Sevilla v Barcelona – Barcelona to win and Over 2.5 Goals (10/11 Ladbrokes)