FC Barcelona were held to a draw by a valiant Sevilla side led by goal-keeper Javi Varas. Varas made a string of world-class saves to deny Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and company, and even saved a late penalty. The game was marred however by the disgraceful scenes near the end surrounding that penalty and Fredi Kanoute in particular.
Pep Guardiola opted for a 3-4-3 on kick-off tonight, but captain Carles Puyol was not part of the starting line-up as precaution, after he felt "discomfort in his groin". It was make-or-break time for the formation, and the game itself was going to be a stern examination for this Blaugrana side. Real Madrid had just dismantled oil-rich Malaga 4-0, with a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, so the pressure was on from the start.
FC Barcelona started well, keeping possession as usual, and Xavi was orchestrating the tempo in his record-equalling 391st La Liga appearance. Sevilla were always going to play on the counter, and Manu Del Moral tried to break free down the left-hand side, but Javier Mascherano made a fine intervention with a well-timed slide tackle.
Lionel Messi fashioned the games first half-chance lifting a ball over the top of the Sevilla defense looking for the run of Andres Iniesta, but the World Cup winner could not get the touch needed to trouble Javi Varas. Iniesta had the first shot as well, with Adriano cutting the ball back from the wing and Javi Varas made a fine save to deny Iniesta.
Armenteros let fly with a speculative effort around the quarter-hour mark, but his effort thankfully went wide of the mark. Iniesta created the next chance fizzing in a cross for Lionel Messi, but La Pulga could not quite reach it on the slide. Barcelona were playing well, but Sevilla were posing a threat on the counter.
Dani Alves was caught in possession on the edge of the Barca penalty area, and Jesus Navas tested Victor Valdes with a curling effort. Valdes himself was going for personal best in terms of minutes without conceding, and he would have to reach the hour mark unscathed for this to happen.
Andres Iniesta was still in the thick of it, and his deflected shot brought Barcelona a corner on 27 minutes. The Blaugrana were upping the tempo, and Sevilla were taking more punches, but were still standing. Half-chances for Dani Alves and David Villa were not capitalised upon before the best chance of the half fell top El Guaje after neat inter-play from Adriano and of course, Andres Iniesta, but Javi Varas again produced a world-class save.
Lionel Messi had a cross deflected towards goal, and Varas yet again came up with an instinctive save. The half was over, and it was 0-0, thanks only to Javi Varas’ super-human exploits. Barcelona needed to change it up a bit; one would presume that the second half would see the introduction of Cesc Fabregas.
The second half was mostly Barcelona pressing for that breakthrough, and to be fair, I should write about this. So, here goes.
Messi hit a free-kick just over, Iniesta had a first time shot saved by Varas, while Adriano should have done better with a long-range effort to a half-open goal. Pedro was brought on for Seydou Keita, and Messi played a sublime slide-rule pass to Andres Iniesta, who got there before Varas, but his chip went just over.
Fazio made a fine block to deny Cesc Fabregas who came on late in the second half, while Messi tested Varas after a mesmerising run.
Then, it all kicked off.
Andres Iniesta went on a one-man mission into injury-time with a jinking run, and was brought down by Fazio. Yellow card, penalty kick. Lionel Messi goes to take it, Kanoute kicks the ball away, another yellow card. Then, he finds Cesc Fabregas and for one reason or another, picks a fight. He is sent off, and there is a further delay.
The Messi steps up, and his penalty kick is saved, thanks no doubt to Kanoute’s gamesmanship. It was disgraceful behaviour by the veteran, and he deserved the red card, no matter what the circumstances. Sevilla are delirious, Barca are shell-shocked, but the game is not yet over. Pedro runs down the right-hand side and is hacked down by Fernando Navarro. Another red card is produced and Messi gets a free-kick. His effort is deflected wide, and the game finally ends at 0-0.
Personally, it was the most ridiculous five minutes I ever recall seeing. Kanoute was disgraceful, and Navarro’s challenge was a poor one, though I sense no real malice.
Javi Varas is man of the match, and deservedly so. Though I have a feeling Kanoute kept this game at a draw, and that is simply not right.
Roll on Granada...
Visca el Barca.