Perhaps it was a little unreasonable to count on Real Madrid sustaining the form that allowed them to earn a Copa del Rey draw at Barcelona followed by road wins over Atlético Madrid (La Liga) and Ajax (Champions League). That stretch could have been a flash in the pan for a talented but flawed team. Or it might have been fatigue that caused Los Blancos to falter in a devastating 2-1 loss to 15th-place Girona last Sunday.
What’s not up for debate – not that it was exactly an open question – is who the heavy favorite should be in La Liga. There was nothing pretty about Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Valladolid last week, but those three points mean Barça (54 points) remains well clear of second-place Atletico (47) and third-place RM (45).
Last weekend was yet another example of Barcelona getting at least a point despite being a long way from its best. Manager Ernesto Valverde’s side have now recorded two draws and an uninspiring win in their last three La Liga contests (five points), but neither Atletico (with three points in their last three) nor Real Madrid (six points in their last three) have fully taken advantage.
Saturday’s trip to face fourth-place Sevilla at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán at 10:15 a.m. Eastern appears to be Barcelona’s toughest La Liga match-up in weeks. That’s as much an indictment of the Catalans’ slate since the winter break – of their seven league foes this calendar year, Getafe is the only one in the top five of the table – as anything.
Sevilla (37 points) is a considerable distance from the top of the table and has struggled since beating Levante 5-0 on Jan. 26. The club has won just one of its last three La Liga matches, including a 3-0 loss to Villarreal last Sunday. But they showed what they’re capable of in big games on Wednesday, beating Lazio 2-0 to advance to the Europa League’s Round of 16.
Barcelona handled these teams’ first match-up of the season, winning 4-2 back in October. Sevilla trailed 2-0 after 12 minutes as Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi both found the back of the net in the early going.