MADRID: Barcelona face a huge task to bounce back from defeat at the hands of old boss Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in midweek when the Spanish champions travel to high-flying Sevilla on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Barca trail La Liga leaders Real Madrid by two points with Sevilla, who have won their last seven home games, just a point further adrift.
“We are coming into the game well,” said Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli after his side moved to the brink of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 with a 4-0 thrashing of Dinamo Zagreb.
“I don’t think losing will affect Barcelona. If we don’t have a perfect evening it will be a very difficult encounter.”
On top of their Champions League defeat in Manchester, Barca have sneaked past Valencia and Granada in their last two league outings as the absence of Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta has taken its toll.
All three are expected to miss out once more at the Sanchez Pizjuan with Rafinha or Arda Turan replacing Andre Gomes the only change expected from the team that started at the Etihad Stadium.
“After the first half, especially after losing the second goal, we lost the attitude we normally have,” Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen told radio station RAC1 on what Luis Enrique’s men need to improve for their trip to Seville.
Barca was the last visiting side to win at the Sanchez Pizjuan. However, a 2-0 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup in August came before Sevilla had bedded in many of their 11 summer signings.
Sevilla have injury problems of their own, though, with Samir Nasri a major doubt due to a hamstring problem that forced him to miss the midweek win.
Barca could be five points adrift of Real by the time they kick off as the European champions host Leganes on Sunday.
Madrid endured an embarrassing night in front of an empty stadium on Wednesday as they spurned a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 away at Legia Warsaw.
The match was played behind closed doors due to violence and racist chanting from Legia fans.
Yet, only Mateo Kovacic’s equalizer five minutes from time allowed Madrid to extend their unbeaten run to 27 games, and coach Zinedine Zidane once again criticized his side’s lack of intensity.
“We lacked intensity, desire and movement,” said the Frenchman.
“At times you can have these odd games and we’ve got to be patient. The good thing is that we didn’t lose and we’re now focusing on our next game.”
Madrid could be boosted by the return of Luka Modric for the first time in a month after he underwent surgery on a knee cartilage problem.
Marcelo and James Rodriguez should also be fit after missing the trip to Warsaw, but Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Pepe remain sidelined.
It is the first time Leganes has ever faced Real in league action.
After a bright start to their debut La Liga campaign, three consecutive defeats have seen Leganes, nicknamed the ‘cucumber growers’, slip to a point above the relegation zone.
Atletico Madrid are three points back on Real in third, but can move top when they travel to Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Diego Simeone’s men were the only Spanish side to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League in midweek, but needed a dramatic 93rd-minute Antoine Griezmann winner to see off FC Rostov 2-1.
Center-back Stefan Savic is suspended with Lucas Hernandez or the fit-against Jose Maria Gimenez set to deputise.
Kevin Gameiro should also replace Fernando Torres in attack.
Real Betis coach Gustavo Poyet’s job is on the line when his side visits fifth-placed Villarreal on Sunday.
Betis are just two points off the relegation zone in 13th and fans called for Poyet’s head during last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at home to Espanyol.