Sevilla travels to the Camp Nou on Sunday night to face a Barcelona side who are hoping to put together a solid run of form going into the international break. The return of Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba will give Barça added confidence ahead of the clash, while Sevilla will hope to rediscover the form shown in the opening games of the season which has been lacking in recent weeks. Only goal difference separates the teams going into the fixture, and a win for either side will close the gap at the top of the table to two points.
Both Barça and Sevilla have had somewhat mixed starts to the season. Sevilla flew out of the traps early on, but a disappointing run of form has since seen them slump to 6th place in the table. Meanwhile, the Catalans have spent the last few games in La Liga trying to recover from their worst domestic start in 25 years. Ernesto Valverde's side will now look to build upon Wednesday's hard-fought victory against Internazionale in the Champions League with a victory over the Andalusians.
Lionel Messi is back in the frame after a frustrating period of injuries, and his performance against Inter in midweek showed why this is such good news for the Blaugranas. The Argentine looked back to his brilliant best on Wednesday night, playing a key part in both of Luis Suárez's goals and generally causing problems for the visitors throughout the 90 minutes. His record against Sevilla is nothing short of incredible, having put 36 goals past the Blanquirrojos in 37 matches.
Another positive development for Barça is the return of Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba to the squad. The latter may well feature in the starting XI, given the injury to Junior Firpo, who has been filling in for Alba at left-back. Should Alba be ruled unfit to play the full 90 minutes, the right-footed Sergi Roberto could start the game in his place.
Unfortunately for Sevilla, Sergi Gómez is not in the squad as he suffered an injury during Thursday night's Europe League match against APOEL. However, Julen Lopetegui will be pleased by the return of Daniel Carriço, who looks to have recovered from the injury which forced him off during his side's disappointing away defeat against Eibar.
Barça Predicted XI: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Todibo, Alba, Arthur, Busquets, De Jong, Messi, Suárez, Griezmann
Sevilla Predicted XI: Vaclik, Reguilón, Diego Carlos, Carriço, Navas, Banega, Fernando, Jordán, Nolito, De Jong, Ocampos
Carriço's return at centre half is timely from Sevilla's point of view, given the number of goals that this fixture usually provides. The Catalans ran out 6-1 winners the last time these two met at the Camp Nou, and Sevilla will need as much quality in defence as possible to deal with a resurgent Barça forward line. Carriço's most direct clash will most likely be with Suárez, who starts in the middle of the front three, while Sergio Reguilón and the veteran Jesús Navas will seek to keep Messi and Antoine Griezmann in check throughout the 90 minutes.
Lopetegui seemed focused in the press conference ahead of Sunday's game. The Basque insisted that he had no personal feelings heading into this match, despite the fact that it was an ignominious defeat at the Camp Nou which ultimately cost him his job as Real Madrid manager in November last year.
"The only thing I'm focused on is making sure that Sevilla performs well tomorrow - nothing else," he said on Saturday.
"We're excited to play in an extremely demanding game in a tremendous stadium against a spectacular team."
At his own press conference, Valverde reflected upon his team's rocky start to the season, as well as the ups and downs that one faces as manager of Barcelona.
"At Barcelona, you can be at rock bottom on Monday and in heaven on Friday, and vice-versa."
"Just now we're doing well - we're putting together a good run of form and we hope to win against Sevilla."
Given the amount of criticism that he has received in recent weeks, a win against Sevilla would provide Valverde with a considerable amount of breathing space heading into the international break.