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La Liga: FC Barcelona 3-2 Sevilla FC: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's breathless La Liga victory over Sevilla FC on Saturday night, as goals from Dani Alves, Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez secured a 3-2 win for the hosts

David Ramos

What a game. FC Barcelona struck in the dying seconds of injury-time to secure a dramatic 3-2 win at the Camp Nou on Saturday evening, as the Blaugrana returned from the international break to maintain their grip over La Liga. Goals from former Sevilla star Dani Alves and four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi appeared to have gifted Barcelona a comfortable 2-0 lead, only for Sevilla to strike back courtesy of goals from Ivan Rakitic and Coke. With time winding down, Barcelona surged forward and somehow engineered a late winner – as Alexis Sánchez bundled home Barça’s third of the evening with virtually the last kick of the game.






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FC Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino opted to hand young star Cristian Tello his first start of the season in place of the resting Pedro Rodriguez, although there was no place in the starting line-up for Martin Montoya, or for Cesc Fàbregas, who dropped to the bench for the first time this La Liga season. Instead, Barça captain Xavi was partnered in midfield by the familiar face of Andrés Iniesta. Would Barcelona’s strong starting XI cruise to victory against Unai Emery’s struggling Sevilla, or would the Andalusians claim their first league victory of the campaign?

Barcelona started the match well; their high-line of pressure was clearly affecting the shaky Sevilla defense, who nearly gave away a cheap early goal courtesy of Queens Park Rangers loanee Stephane M’Bia’s underhit backpass. Fortunately for the visitors, Portuguese keeper Beto was quick off his line to temporarily clear the danger. The Blaugrana continued to surge forward, regaining possession almost immediately and this allowed the hosts to create their first real chance of the match as Neymar combined with Lionel Messi to force the game’s first save.

The Brazilian’s well-struck effort was destined for the far-corner of Beto’s goal, but the Sevilla shot-stopper sprung away to his left to claw the ball away for a corner kick.

Encouraged by this spell of early pressure, the Catalans kept their composure with the delivery of the set-piece; working a typical short corner, Barça actually managed to deliver a teasing cross, only for the ball to evade the reach of an unmarked Gerard Piqué.

Two shots – one from Xavi from a free-kick, and another from Neymar – ensured that the Blaugrana sustained their pressure on Beto’s goal, but the Portuguese goalkeeper was equal to both efforts. Cue distressing flashbacks to Barcelona’s frustrating goalless draw with the same opposition just a couple of seasons ago. Javi Varas was the man between the sticks on that night; maybe he had provided Beto with a couple of tips in training?

Even after an impressive start, Culés had every reason to feel anxious. Sevilla’s pace on the counter-attack was clear for all to see, and on a couple of occasions, both Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano were nearly caught out. Chasing loose balls (or hopeful passes), Piqué had to slide to retain possession while Mascherano’s decision-making was a little suspicious when faced with a chasing attacker. Factor in an early injury to Jordi Alba (replaced by Adriano after just 15 minutes), and maybe, just maybe Sevilla were in with a chance after all.

Certainly Beto’s good form/luck in goal continued into the latter stages of the first half-hour; Neymar had been denied twice in the opening 20 minutes, so he turned creator in an attempt to engineer an opener, feeding Cristian Tello for his first shot of the evening. That effort was blocked by the Sevilla defense – but not cleared from danger, enabling Tello to try his hand for a second time. This time, Tello targeted the near post, powering a low shot towards the bottom corner of Beto’s goal, only to be thwarted by a superb save from the Sevilla keeper.

Just what would Barcelona need to do to open the scoring? They had created good chances, pressed high up the field and directed plenty of shots on goal; but luck wasn’t on their side. Sevilla on the other hand could do no wrong. No matter where they gave away possession someone – be it Beto, or Juan Cala – came to the rescue with a last-ditch block, or a magnificent save.

Neymar was the stand-out performer, demonstrating exactly why FC Barcelona paid €57 million for his services this past summer, yet even his best efforts were not enough to breach the Sevilla defense.

Maybe what Barcelona needed was a touch of magic from the four-time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi?

It had been a quiet opening half-hour for the talismanic Argentine forward, although you can only keep him subdued for so long. At some point, you know he’s going to create a chance, either for himself or for a teammate – and when that time comes, can you still keep Barcelona at bay?

To be fair, Messi had given them some warning, coming close with a free-kick and then forcing a block with a trademark left-footed shot from the right-hand side of the area – curiously enough, that was all it took. Messi reminded Sevilla that he was in the game, so they kept a closer eye on him – and not on Dani Alves. The Barça full-back was facing his former club and combined with another ex-Sevilla star, the substitute Adriano, to head home Barcelona’s opener at the far post.

It may have taken 36 minutes, but Barcelona were finally on the scoreboard against Sevilla and wasted no time searching for a quick-fire second.

Again, they turned to Neymar for some inspiration only for Sevilla to once again resort to some under-hand tactics – niggling fouls, clear fouls; Sevilla didn’t discriminate. They just wanted to kick Neymar, or shove him over; whatever stopped him from torturing their defense. To his credit, Neymar didn’t complain and he certainly didn’t throw himself to the turf – he stood his ground when possible, and accepted the referee’s decision after each and every kick. Perhaps that’s where he was going wrong? Shoved to the ground by the already-booked Stephane M’Bia, one could argue that a reaction from Neymar may have earned the Cameroonian midfielder an early bath.

Ask yourself, would Cristiano Ronaldo have made "more" out of that challenge? Would the World’s Most Expensive Player, Gareth Bale have reacted differently to that foul from M’Bia?

That’s what we all respect about Neymar; he’s letting the referees grab the headlines, or more accurately, grabbing the headlines himself with strong performances, rather than theatrics as he previously did with Santos.

Surprisingly, Gerard Piqué created Barcelona’s final chance of the half with a powerful run, threading an exceptional through ball into the path of Cristian Tello, whose shot was once again parried clear by Beto. Headed into the break Barcelona were in complete control – now all they needed was for the score-line to reflect that fact...

Starting the second period in a similar vein to the first, Barça laid siege to the Sevilla goal, but it took them more than five minutes to carve out their first real opportunity, as Sergio Busquets’ pinpoint pass found Neymar in acres of space on the left-hand side of the area following the breakdown of a corner-kick. Naturally, that space quickly vanished as the Sevilla defense shifted their attentions to the Brazilian star, but Neymar created it all again with a simple drop of the shoulder. Opening up his body, Neymar looked to place the ball into the far corner of the net – and would have surely succeeded if not for a well-timed block from a determined Sevilla defender.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Blaugrana however, from time to time the visitors would venture forward and it was up to the defense to keep Barça ahead. Oft-criticised, and vastly underrated – the defense held firm thanks to the efforts of Gerard Piqué, who blocked Vitolo’s right-footed shot to keep Barça in front.

Barcelona made their second change of the evening on the hour-mark, replacing Cristian Tello with Alexis Sánchez and within moments of the substitution, there was a second goal – only at the wrong end. Rising highest at the corner-kick, Juan Cala looked to have tied the game for Sevilla – only for the referee to penalise the centre-half for an infraction, presumably on Dani Alves. In jumping for the ball, Cala clearly "leaned" on Alves, seemingly impeding Alves’ ability to challenge for the ball. Maybe Barcelona got lucky with the decision – but it’s not like Sevilla hadn’t benefitted from a favourable decision or two over the course of the match.

Lionel Messi nearly doubled Barcelona’s advantage soon after that contentious decision, blazing a right-footed shot over from just outside the area – in a chance that was created by Andrés Iniesta. In dancing past a couple of challenges, Iniesta picked up a heavy knock but was able to walk from the field and is not expected to miss any game-time – just in case anyone was worried with the way he left the field.

His replacement, Cesc Fàbregas has been in scintillating form thus far this season, and immediately involved himself in the thick of the action, working the ball across to Neymar, who squared a low cross for Lionel Messi to thump home his first goal of the evening – and his sixth of the young La Liga season.

With a two-goal cushion to work with, Barcelona had surely done enough for the three points, hadn’t they? Well, almost exactly five minutes after Messi had doubled Barça’s lead, Ivan Rakitic applied the finishing touches to a dangerous counter-attack to cut Barcelona’s lead in half, slotting the ball under the reach of Victor Valdés after a good pass from Vitolo.

It was Sevilla’s first shot on target – like I said earlier, they probably had their fair share of luck tonight – and the watching Culés could only hope that they wouldn’t grab another. Sevilla didn’t deserve a share of the spoils; they were clearly second-best – and Barcelona hoped to reinforce that fact in the latter stages. Fàbregas registered four shots, each with varying degrees of success – but the best chances fell to Neymar and Adriano.

Neymar however wasted his chance by selflessly attempting to find Lionel Messi with another cut-back. It was the wrong decision and the goal could have been at his mercy, but it’s hard to criticise a player who had put in a Man of the Match-worthy performance in attack. Adriano on the other hand was denied by the out-stretched hand of Beto, who had also put in a memorable shift in the Sevilla goal.

His heroics had kept Sevilla in the game and Barcelona’s defensive frailties once again reared their ugly head as Coke grabbed a late equaliser following another dangerous corner. Did they deserve a point? Some might say that they did for the fight-back alone – but lest we forget who dominated this match. Barcelona created the majority of the chances, they had the lion’s share of possession – and in Lionel Messi, they had a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card.

With the Blaugrana stumbling to a draw, Messi turned on the afterburners, moved into top gear and ultimately decided this match. Racing away from a number of challengers, Messi got to the byline and could have gone for goal. After a mesmeric run like that, he may have even scored – but he wasn’t willing to take that risk with the three points on the line. Instead, Messi played the ball into the danger-zone and Alexis Sánchez capitalised on some calamitous defending to stab home a winner.

What a response, what a game; what a team.

The weaknesses are there for all to see, but no matter how hard a team seems to try, they just cannot capitalise.

Next up, Barcelona begin their UEFA Champions League campaign against AFC Ajax, but until then, Visca el Barça!

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