Barça entered matchday 11 with something to prove.
Playing away at Sevilla is a consistently difficult match, and the general mood suggested it might not go well.
Mundo Deportivo’s called on the team to resurge after recent results — a scraped out 1-0 victory against Granada and the 3-1 midweek defeat in Manchester.
A pervasive air of negativity permeated the press and the social media buzz ahead of the game. Luis Enrique said in his pre-match press conference that he’s aware of the “craving to judge and discredit” the squad.
The problems which held Barça back in their last two matches were still in play on Sunday. The squad was thin due to injuries to Alba, Piqué, Vidal, Iniesta, and Mathieu. In the first half especially, Piqué’s absence and Busquet’s dip in form felt evident and ever-present.
Fifteen minutes in, Samir Nasri got the ball off a clearance and sent a pass towards Vitolo. Sergi Roberto showed that right back still may not be his natural position; the Sevilla forward beat him to the ball and moved past him easily before calmly finishing to score his first goal of the season and give his squad an early advantage.
Sevilla was fast on the counter and constantly in Barça’s box. They easily could have gone three or four goals up in the first 45 minutes — Barcelona was lucky to keep the game close.
The difference came, as it often does, from the feet of Lionel Messi. He started the buildup from Barça’s midfield in the closing moments of the half, passing to Denis Suárez and one-timing a ball from Neymar just outside the area directly into the net. His (unofficial) 500th goal for the club was a microcosm of what he brings to the team, and to football itself — an irrepressibly creative spirit combined with a lethal scoring instinct and a tremendous work rate.
9 – Lionel Messi has scored 13 goals and delivered four assists in his last nine appearances for Barcelona (all competitions). Lethal. pic.twitter.com/dIA55YVJ5W
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 7, 2016
Due to Messi’s goal, Barcelona managed to survive a disappointing opening and go into the break on level terms. Lucho took the opportunity to change tactics, and the effect on the team in the second half was immediate. Roberto and Umtiti alternated at moving into the midfield, giving the team more control in the center of the pitch and more opportunities to get the ball to Messi. (A sound strategy if there ever was one).
The second half featured some of the most exciting attacking football of the season. Sevilla was undefeated in the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this season and they were loathe to let it happen from a game in which they’d led for nearly 30 minutes. However, Barcelona seemed to find the second wind they’d lacked in the latter stages against Manchester City. The home side’s dangerous counterattack was shut down more readily, and Barcelona looked increasingly alert in the box.
Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico kept his team level until the 60th minute, when it was Messi again, this time setting up Luis Suárez.
Barcelona came close multiple times to getting a third, but the scoreline remained 2-1 until the final whistle. Messi received a yellow card in the closing moments for time wasting, after losing his boot to a tackle. The club announced today they will be appealing the referee’s action.
Now, Barcelona heads into the international break two points behind Real Madrid. If players return healthy to face Málaga, La Liga will feel much closer than in recent weeks.
Si el Balón de Oro se diera al mejor jugador del mundo, Leo lo tendría que haber ganado cada año desde el 2009. Otro nivel.
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) November 6, 2016