The match at the Sánchez Pizjuan, even before the start, seemed to be one of the most complicated games for Barça. Memories of last season’s game are still fresh, where Barça did everything to win, but Sevilla stood tough, parked a very well positioned bus, and nothing went in.
This time, however, Sevilla looked a much more frightening side, due to their powerful counter-attack, which had already borne fruit a few weeks ago against Madrid. But once again this season, Barça succeeded against a disciplined side, a team that not only defended well but also exposed Barça’s failures in defense. This season, it seems nothing is stronger than Barça’s willingness to win.
During the first 20 minutes, Barça seemed to have returned to old times, where a lot of passes were made in order to tire the rival. Patience was the emblem of that game. But under Tito, patience has been replaced by a directness that was lacking under Guardiola. For good or for bad, the team plays and gets to the scoring line much faster than before. So, during the first moments of today’s game, combinations and passes were made at high speed, more precise than in previous games. Horizontal passes are less frequent and, for that reason, any tiny mistake makes a counter-attack possible. And this is how Sevilla scored. After the goal, Barça became confused, concentration levels lowered, and even the intensity of some players started to diminish (particularly, Messi). Sevilla took the lead not only on goals but also in motivation.
The final bits of the first half showed a Barça that made a series of mistakes both in midfield and defense, with Sevilla imposing its terms, and creating more chances to score. The Song-Mascherano duo didn’t find themselves on the pitch: if one went for a Sevilla player, the other was always misplaced, which didn’t allow them to control the excellent forward line from the locals.
In midfield, things weren’t too good either. Sevilla showed their power: Messi always had three to four men surrounding him, and Alexis and Pedro were also covered well by a very, very disciplined team. Xavi and Cesc still found ways of making them worry, but delivery mistakes were frequent, and the defense was exposed several times.
This scenario continued in the second half. A ball lost in midfield, once more, allowed Negredo to score a beautiful goal, revealing once more that Song might need some time to adapt to the central defense. He didn’t have a bad game, it’s just that he didn’t find the right partner in Mascherano. Usually, in our defense there is one central defender that holds and defines the position (usually Piqué) and another one that goes out to defend (usually Mascherano). Today, both went out, so were sometimes caught out of position. That was even more evident when Barça couldn’t hold the ball in midfield. Left and right backs also had a difficult game; Jordi Alba worked hard and succeeded in stopping the incisive Jesús Navas, who was practically marked out of the match. On the other side, Dani Alves didn’t have a good game. He tried a lot in attack, leaving his side vulnerable at times and not allowing Alexis to attack as he should have.
But, just when things looked really bad, after Sevilla’s second goal, Barça started to flow again. They didn’t get desperate, tried to play like they know and started to get into attacking positions more frequently. Xavi was allowed to combine and move better, probably because Sevilla’s players were getting tired, and Cesc, as he had been all game, led the way into the Sevilla area with deep passes.
The game changed completely after the 1-2 by Cesc, with a shot from outside the area. Tello came in for Alexis and gave the tired Sevilla defender a new reason to worry, liberating Cesc and Messi to get deeper in attack. Free kicks (barrier always out of line there) and corner kicks started to appear, then the next thing was the Medel incident with Cesc. An assault, whether they like it or not, that has been rather common on the good Chilean player, too often sent off for this kind of stupid reaction.
If Sevilla were struggling with 11 men, they did more so with 10, as Medel was very important in interfering with the Barça buildup in midfield. Thiago and Villa came in as well, and Barça became even more attack minded as Tito bet on the 3-4-3 formation once more. I have to say that, playing with both Song and Mascherano in central defense, it takes a lot of courage to make such a tactical move. But Tito has that courage.
Barça continued attacking, trying to get another goal, using Tello, Messi (who came back to life for the 20 last minutes of the game), Villa, and Xavi commanding all the moves from behind. The 2-2 came in minute 89, when Cesc (MVP, hands down) received a fantastic pass by Messi near the goal keeper. Before that, the ball hit Thiago’s hand (who seems to have another injury, more details tomorrow!), in a play that has been showed about 1,000 times on the TV, but each one of those 1,000 times has shown that it wasn’t intentional.
The final minutes were superb from Barça, wholly committed to getting another goal, which came from a shot from Villa, after a pass by Messi.Villa’s remarkable effectiveness (3 goals out of 4 shots on target) has Barça fans looking forward to what he can do with more game time.
At the end, Barça has its signature moves back. High pressure over rivals was back, as were continuous attack. The numerous chances to score in the second half came from deep passes, from the center and also from the wings (mostly, Tello’s side). The team has clearly some issues in defense that need to be sorted, but they seem manageable. The vertical, deeper game seems to be here to stay, and if that is the case, pressure in midfield needs also to evolve to fit that strategy.
For today, a very big victory that will help the team to grow. We are winning games we drew or lost last season, and that should count for something. The team needs to work on some things, but it’s always easy to improve when you’re winning. There is time to improve those issues, and there is a margin provided by the team’s cushion at the top of the Liga table. But as culés we always want more, and we will be waiting for the changes Tito will make to strengthen the defense and evolve the midfield into his new idea for our game. But when you have a group of players that want to win everything, every ball, every game, like they hadn’t won anything in years, those needed improvements seem to be just a matter of time.
Images: CRISTINA-QUICLER, FCBarcelona.com and Mundo Deportivo