by Kieran CANNING
Sampaoli looked to be at the head of the queue when Barca boss Luis Enrique announced he would step down at the end of the campaign little over a month ago.
However, since then Sevilla have been knocked out of the Champions League by Leicester City and tumbled out of contention for the La Liga title with Atletico Madrid passing them into third place.
Sampaoli’s future at the Sanchez Pizjuan is far from clear with long-term sporting director Monchi’s decision to leave last week adding further uncertainty.
What does seem obvious, though, is that Sampaoli would jump at the chance to coach compatriot Lionel Messi and Barca’s host of other stars next season.
“I want to manage Messi to be able to watch him from the sideline every day.” Sampaoli told Argentine newspaper Ole last week.
“It is a unique dream to be able to see the best in the world up close.”
Sampaoli may get his wish to coach Messi, albeit not on a daily basis with the Argentine Football Association reportedly set to offer him the chance to salvage their faltering World Cup qualifying campaign.
Barca, meanwhile, look set to go in another direction with Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde and Enrique’s assistant Juan Carlos Unzue emerging as the favourites to take over next season.
Wednesday’s clash gives Sampaoli one last chance to impress the Barca hierarchy, whilst the Sevilla squad are focused on booking their place in next season’s Champions League without needing to win a trick August qualifier by beating out Atletico for third place.
“It is difficult for us to accept right now, but we have to turn it around because we are the same team as five games ago when we were second,” said striker Stefan Jovetic after a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to third bottom Sporting Gijon on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Sevilla, though, Messi is back after missing his last two games for club and country through suspension.
“It is very difficult for a team with Leo playing well to lose,” added Sampaoli.
The five-time World Player of the Year’s absence didn’t prove a fatal blow to Barca’s title hopes as Luis Suarez and Neymar both scored in Sunday’s 4-1 win at Granada to remain just two points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
All three are set to be reunited, whilst Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta also return for Barca after being rested from the start against Granada.
Madrid also have a game in hand, but Barca can ramp up the pressure on their title rivals by going top with victory before Real travel to Leganes later on Wednesday.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol (1830), Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad, Real Betis v Villarreal (both 2030)
Barcelona v Sevilla (1830), Deportivo La Coruna v Granada, Alaves v Osasuna, Sporting Gijón v Málaga (1930), Leganes v Real Madrid (2030)
Eibar v Las Palmas (1830), Valencia v Celta Vigo (2030)
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