FC Barcelona cut the gap at the top of the table to seven points with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Sevilla at the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan. Carles Puyol was dropped to the bench with Adriano starting in place of Eric Abidal, and the Blaugrana started well before taking the lead on 18 minutes thanks to Xavi’s beautifully executed free-kick. The second goal came less than 15 minutes later after exquisite build-up play involving Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, which culminated in the Argentine playing the ball through the legs of a defender before lobbing Andres Palop. Sevilla played well in the second half, but Barcelona held on for a clean sheet and their sixth successive win in all competitions.
As mentioned, Carles Puyol was dropped for one reason or another (probably for rest); while Thiago and Alexis Sanchez were restored to the bench after they shook off their injuries. It is clear that a trip to Seville is always tough and Guardiola respected that fact by fielding arguably his first-choice XI (Puyol excluded). As the teams walked onto the field of play, it was brilliant to see each side wearing "Anims Abidal!" shirts in support of Eric Abidal. The RFEF may be frustrating at times, but lest we forget that UEFA would not have allowed such an act...
The Blaugrana started the match well, with little signs of what has become their typical away form. The passing was crisp and fluid, the movement off the ball was superb and crucially, Lionel Messi was involved from the get-go. Adriano had the first shot of the match after he surged into midfield from his left-back position, unleashing a shot that took a looping deflection, forcing Andres Palop to back-pedal and tip the effort off the bar and out for a corner. Palop was called into action soon after, this time by Pedro, but as with many of Pedro’s efforts throughout the course of the match, the shot was straight at the veteran keeper.
Adriano in particular was looking dangerous with his marauding runs from deep and his juggling dribble at pace was majestic to watch, before Spahic wiped the Brazilian out, earning himself a yellow card in the process. Little did Spahic know, that free-kick would lead to a quite sublime goal.
The usual suspects were standing over the ball: Xavi and Lionel Messi. Both looked to be weighing up the shot from a difficult angle, with the positioning of the ball very similar to Messi’s wonder-strike against Atletico Madrid. However, there was to be no repeat of that from Messi at least as Xavi curled a fabulous strike into the top corner of the net. Andres Palop did scamper across and get a hand to it, but couldn’t divert the ball past the post and Barcelona were in front courtesy of Xavi’s 14th goal of the season. Curiously enough, Bostjan also pointed out that it was his second goal direct from a free-kick away from home this season. "Cristiano who?" indeed!
Barcelona looked to be on the war path as Andres Iniesta early made it two just seconds after the restart, but his attempt went wide off Palop’s goal. However, Barcelona were not to be denied for long, with Lionel Messi doubling the advantage on 25 minutes, and in some style.
The build-up play was excellent, and that’s an under-statement. It all started just inside the Sevilla half with a back-heel from Xavi. That was directed to Cesc Fabregas, and the Catalan slipped but retained possession and toe-poked a pass to Lionel Messi. From there, La Pulga played the type of pass that is fast becoming his trademark: a raking grounded pass across 15-20 yards to Andres Iniesta. From there, Messi burst forward to give Iniesta the option to make the one-two pass, and Andres duly obliged by feeding him the ball. Then let’s just say "Leo happened".
The ball was played at such a fast tempo, you almost disregard the initial control, but it was inch-perfect to set Messi up for an audacious "panna" past a Sevilla defender. This prompted Palop to rush from his goal, so naturally, Messi opted for a perfect lobbed effort to give Barcelona a 2-0 lead. Lionel Messi now needs just four goals to surpass Cesar’s all-time record.
With that two-goal advantage, Barcelona started to take their foot off the gas, and Sevilla fought their way back into the game in every way, aside from the scoreline. Gerard Pique for example made the mistake of leaving a dangerous cross for whatever reason, and Manu del Moral was unlucky to hit the post with his header. The next chance for Sevilla came after a Barcelona-esque lobbed pass from the Chilean Gary Medel, which was chested by Kanoute who also swivelled in the same movement to hit the ball with a turning volley. It was a fine effort, but went wide of Valdes’ goal.
However, Barcelona did have the opportunity to truly put the game to bed on the stroke of half-time with Lionel Messi laying the ball off for Cesc Fabregas, but Cesc put his head down and struck the ball at Palop, when he could have looked up at the situation and possibly attempted a lob. Maybe that’s just Leo rubbing off on me though...
Sevilla returned after the half-time interval much the better side, forcing a couple of timely interventions and saves from the Barca defense. The best chance of the lot once again fell to Manu del Moral, with Jesus Navas providing the cross to the back-post only for Manu to slide and direct his effort wide.
Once again, Barcelona did have a chance to extend their lead further, this time through Andres Iniesta as the midfielder combined well with Messi before dinking the ball over Palop, only for his effort to agonisingly roll past the far post. Pep Guardiola responded to the developing situation by withdrawing Cesc Fabregas for Seydou Keita, who instantly got involved by clashing heads with fellow substitute Cala. The next substitution saw Pep replace Xavi with Alexis Sanchez, as Iniesta dropped back into midfield.
Sevilla were still dangerous though and Jesus Navas’ low cross which actually went through the legs of Javier Mascherano again found Manu in space, but Alves got across to put Manu off with his effort going wide for a corner kick. That chance was partly down to Adriano’s lax effort to track back, and Pep replaced him with Carles Puyol after the ball went out of play following the corner kick.
Navas continued to cause problems though, even against a seasoned- campaigner like Puyol, and his cross towards the back-post was headed back across goal for Kanoute to attempt an over-head kick. Gerard Pique made the block though and Barca escaped with a chance to counter. That chance was seized upon brilliantly, with Messi playing in Alexis, but the Chilean was off-balance when he took the shot, and Palop saved it as a result. There was still time for Messi to be denied a second goal for offside, although no replay was made available, so whether it was the correct decision remains to be seen. All in all, a good victory for the Blaugrana! Next up, Granada at home on Tuesday night!