BARCELONA, Feb 3, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Barcelona welcome Sevilla to Camp Nou on
Sunday high on confidence and leading La Liga with the milestone of 50 points
at the halfway stage of the season.
Only two sides have reached 100 points in the Spanish league's history, Real
Madrid in the 2011-12 season and Barcelona the following year.
It is the fifth time Barcelona have earned that many points at this point of
a campaign and four times they went on to lift the title.
Xavi Hernandez's team has been exceptionally tight at the back, conceding
just seven goals all season in the top flight, with new arrivals Jules Kounde
and Andreas Christensen key.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has returned to his best form too, making
the Catalans Europe's meanest defence across the top five leagues.
By contrast opponents Sevilla are having their worst season for some time,
although the roots of revival under Jorge Sampaoli are finally growing.
The Andalusians, 13th, have won three of their past four league games, after
only two victories in their first 15.
Extending their recent uptick in form will be difficult though, with Xavi
proud of his team's growth since taking over in November 2021.
The coach arrived with Barcelona in ninth place last season and he steered
them to second, qualifying for the Champions League.
Even though they suffered an early elimination from that competition,
Barcelona have been steadily improving and won their first trophy since the
coach arrived in January, lifting the Spanish Super Cup.
Xavi has said the team's main objective is to win La Liga and after the first
19 games left them as standalone leaders, prospects look bright.
"I don't like drawing conclusions halfway through the season, everything can
still be turned on its head," Xavi said after an impressive midweek win at
"We have to match this first half. We are on a good path, but there are 19
more games to go -- the numbers (so far) are extraordinary."
Without injured winger Ousmane Dembele, Barca still earned a 2-1 win at the
Benito Villamarin to hit 50 points.
Dembele's replacement Raphinha netted the opening goal, after a clever
quickly-taken free-kick by Frenkie de Jong.
Xavi said the goal demonstrated his team was mentally ready to succeed this
"It's about attitude, competitiveness, desire, faith, our hopes are huge,"
added the coach.
"We have confidence and the morale to achieve success."
The Blaugrana are boosted by Robert Lewandowski's return from suspension,
with the Polish forward scoring his 14th league goal of the season against
Sevilla's main outlet for goals, Youssef En-Nesyri, also hit a brace last
weekend, ending his drought in the league.
The Morocco striker had a fine World Cup but had failed to find the net in 15
La Liga appearances prior.
If Sampaoli's side are to maintain their improvement, they will have to do
the near impossible -- score against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
No side has managed it this season in La Liga from open play, with the
Catalans keeping seven clean sheets in eight home games.
Only Espanyol striker Joselu has beaten Ter Stegen there, from the penalty
spot in the 1-1 derby draw in December.
Player to watch: Sergio Camello
Rayo Vallecano forward Sergio Camello, on loan from Atletico Madrid, has had
a fine season, with his goals helping the Madrid minnows climb to seventh.
The Spanish striker, 21, has netted five this season, most recently in the 1-
0 win at Villarreal on Monday. With Almeria visiting he can help Rayo keep
pushing for a European qualification spot.
0 - Bottom of the table Elche are still without a win at the halfway stage of
33 - Cadiz are a tough nut to crack and with 33 blocks Uruguayan defender
Alfonso Espino has more than any other player in the division
251 - Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams played a remarkable 251
consecutive league games but his run ended last weekend because of injury
Fixtures (times GMT)
Athletic Bilbao v Cadiz (2000)
Espanyol v Osasuna (1300), Elche v Villarreal (1515), Atletico Madrid v
Getafe (1730), Real Betis v Celta Vigo (2000)
Real Mallorca v Real Madrid (1300), Girona v Valencia (1515), Real Sociedad v
Real Valladolid (1730), Barcelona v Sevilla (2000)
Rayo Vallecano v Almeria (2000)