BARCELONA: 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 Real Betis.
“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 season.
“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 Betis.
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.
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