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Barcelona remain five points clear of Real Madrid after their matches in midweek
Sevilla have climbed out of the relegation zone after showing signs of life
Barcelona should come out on top at the Camp Nou in this weekend’s game
The odds for Barcelona vs Sevilla are provided by the FanDuel sportsbook, which is giving out a $3000 no-sweat first bet right now.
Barcelona do not concede many goals, but Sevilla look much improved and could cause their hosts one or two problems.
Back both teams to score at Camp Nou on Sunday. (-102)
Just like old times, this season’s La Liga title race involves just two teams: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Atletico Madrid have at times forced their way into the conversation during Diego Simeone’s tenure, and even came out on top in 2014 and 2021. But this time around, the big two are all alone out in front.
That might sound unfair on Real Sociedad, who recently held Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw and are only six points adrift of the Blancos. But la Real, for all that they are enjoying an excellent campaign, would have to be close to perfect to win the league from this position.
The Basque outfit are 11 points adrift of top spot and the best online sportsbooks do not fancy their chances of overturning such a significant deficit. A top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League is the best Real Sociedad can realistically hope for this term.
In the two-way tussle at the top of the table, it is advantage Barcelona for now: they have a five-point advantage over their arch-rivals at the midway point of the campaign.
Xavi Hernandez’s side maintained that buffer in midweek, running out 2-1 winners over Real Betis thanks to goals from Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski.
Barcelona will hope that Raphinha’s goal will give the Brazilian a boost of confidence, especially with Ousmane Dembele out injured. There were more positives to take from the team’s defensive display too: Betis may have scored, but that was only because of an own goal by Jules Kounde.
If Real Madrid beat Real Mallorca earlier on Sunday, Barcelona’s lead will have been trimmed to two points by the time this game kicks off. But Madrid will soon be away competing at Club World Cup 2023, potentially giving Barcelona the chance to open up more ground at the summit of the standings.
For a while last season, Sevilla looked like title candidates themselves. As late as the middle of January 2022, Julen Lopetegui’s side occupied second spot and just five points behind table-topping Real Madrid, on whom they had a game in hand. Barcelona trailed Sevilla by 12 points.
From that point onwards, however, things started to go wrong. Sevilla won just two of their next 10 matches to slide down the standings. They only lost four games all season, but they drew far too often: in total, 16 of their 38 fixtures ended with the scores level.
By the end of 2021/22, they were down in fourth place having been overtaken by both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. They would have settled for a top-four finish at the start of the term. But in the context of where they had been midway through the season, it felt like a disappointment.
Sevilla’s downturn continued into the current campaign. In fact, things got much worse. Lopetegui was unable to arrest the decline, and by the time he was sacked at the beginning of October, the team were just outside the relegation zone after winning only one of their first seven encounters.
Jorge Sampaoli, returning for a second spell as a manager, was unable to spark an instant improvement. At one point, Sevilla even sank to second-bottom as demotion worries intensified.
But in recent weeks, they have shown signs of life. Three wins in their last four games have lifted Sevilla up to the heady heights of 13th. It is too early to start celebrating a job done, but the situation looks a great deal more positive than it did a few weeks ago.
Barcelona’s defensive record this season is exceptional. They are on course to concede only 14 goals after 38 matches, which would be a new all-time record in La Liga. On average they have let in just 0.37 goals per game in the top flight, so it is little wonder they are sitting pretty in first place.
However, the underlying statistics suggest Barcelona have been a little fortunate defensively. Based on expected goals, their opponents have scored around eight goals fewer than they ‘should’ have based on the quality of the chances they created.
In fact, Barcelona do not even rank top of the expected goals against table: Athletic Bilbao have given up fewer chances so far this season. Meanwhile, Xavi’s men are only marginally ahead of Real Sociedad in third.
Sevilla, meanwhile, have scored in 19 of their 20 games in all competitions since Sampaoli replaced Lopetegui in the dugout.
The Argentine is an attack-minded manager who looks to play on the front foot wherever possible, so this weekend’s visitors to the Camp Nou are unlikely to simply sit deep and hope for the best.
All in all, both teams to score looks like the best choice from a betting perspective for Sunday’s clash.
Teams: Barcelona vs Sevilla
Location: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Time: Sunday 5 February 2023, 3PM, EST
How to Watch: ESPN+
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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