MADRID, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona face perhaps their most important game of the season when they travel to play Sevilla on Sunday evening.
Failure to win in the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium could see Barca drop down to third place in the BBVA Primera Liga table and slip to 6 points off the lead, should Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid win their respective games on Saturday.
Barca will travel in the midst of another 'crisis' following their home defeat to Valencia last weekend and their unconvincing display at home to Real Sociedad in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal.
Those games have served to raise doubts once again over the more direct style of play imposed by coach, Tata Martino and also the form of Leo Messi.
Although he scored his first league goal in almost four months from the penalty spot last weekend, Messi has struggled to be at his best since returning after his thigh injury at the start of the year.
The Argentinean does look to be moving back to full fitness, but the sharpness of touch and half a yard of pace are still missing. Barca showed before the New Year they can cope without him, but with Andres Iniesta also below par and Neymar still out with an ankle injury, the options for Martino are now more limited.
He will be forced into changes in Seville on Sunday as central defender Javier Mascherano and left back Jordi Alba are both suspended. Alba will be replaced with former Sevilla utility player, Adriano, while Marc Bartra will replace Mascherano.
Many do not see Mascherano's absence as a major problem, given that Bartra is probably a more specialized central defender who is stronger in the air, as well as having a timely ability to step forward in attack.
They will be more worried by the fact that Xavi Hernandez has struggled to last 90 minutes in recent matches and when Martino has been forced to rest him, Barca have struggled, looking flat and lacking ideas in recent matches.
Sevilla have also stumbled in recent weeks, taking just two points from their last four matches after it looked as if Unai Emery's side were making a determined challenge to battle for the top six spot their squad probably merits.
Sevilla have a dangerous striker in Carlos Bacca and Barca will have to keep a close watch on the Colombian as well as in-demand midfield lynchpin Ivan Rakitic if they are to maintain control of the game.
Barca will kick off knowing their rivals' results and that could see the pressure raised to boiling point in the PIzjuan. A potential champion will be able to respond: will Barca?