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The Catalan club have set their sights on the 27-year-old Frenchman, who has taken a step up since the arrival of Jorge Sampaoli, but the Andalusians do not want to sell


Barcelona are seeking a player as back-up for Sergio Busquets and the Catalans have identified Sevilla's Steven N'Zonzi as a transfer target. The French midfielder has impressed at the Sanchez Pizjuan following a slow start and is wanted by the Camp Nou club. The Andalusians, however, are loath to let him leave.

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N'Zonzi spent six seasons in England, three with Blackburn Rovers and another three at Stoke City. In the Premier League, he was considered an effective player but not one who would end up being scouted by Europe's top clubs. At Sevilla, however, he has taken a step up and Barca's interest is real.

The Frenchman's former manager at Stoke, Mark Hughes, did not want the midfielder to leave. But N'Zonzi was keen to move to Sevilla and he himself put pressure on his club to swap the Premier League for La Liga in the summer of 2015.

His first few weeks in Seville were difficult. A bout of salmonella saw him sidelined for six weeks, while he also lost nine kilos and missed the UEFA Super Cup clash against Barcelona at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. And months later, he would also sit out the Copa del Rey final versus the Catalans through suspension.

N'Zonzi took time to adjust to the intense heat of life in Seville and was sent off in his first league match, against Malaga. The Frenchman was also frustrated that challenges he made in England were being punished in Spain. But it was against Barcelona, curiously, that he began to find his best form.

That was in the Andalusians' 2-1 win at home to the Catalans last October, when N'Zonzi was superb alongside Grzegorz Krychowiak in a double pivot that ultimately helped Sevilla secure a third straight Europa League crown and qualify for the Champions League.

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With Jorge Sampaoli, however, he has added even more to his game. After rejecting a move to Leicester in the summer, he has been utilised by the Argentine in a single pivot position, similar to the one occupied by Busquets at Barcelona. Now accustomed to the weather in Seville and to the officiating in Spain, N'Zonzi is thriving. "I like Sevilla because it's a real family club," he said recently.

He is now one of the sensations in La Liga - and Barca's interest merely confirms that fact. The Frenchman was a key player under Unai Emery and has stepped up to another level in his second season, with Sampaoli in charge. And in training, he is one of the players most praised by the Argentine coach. N'Zonzi is no longer a well-kept secret in Seville - and the club know it.

His release clause currently stands at €30 million and his contract runs until 2019. But as Barca weigh up a move, Sevilla hope to tie their player down to a new deal which would raise his price next summer. Meanwhile, Barca watch with interest and continue to keep tabs on one of the few players they believe can stand in for Busquets at Camp Nou.