Barcelona has lost a game at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium for the first time in eight years, and Sevilla coach Unai Emery won his first game ever against the Blaugrana. Without Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta, many expected a poor performance by the Catalan giants, but they surprised us and played well enough to deserve a win. But once again, individual mistakes and finishing problems cost Barça three points, and now they can fall out of the top four depending on the weekend's results. Is it possible for things to get any worse?
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Coach Luis Enrique did not surprise with his starting lineup choice. The Messi-less life calls for tactical changes, but it's too soon to make a shocking alteration. But there were a few modifications, beginning with the return of Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, recovered from injury and back to his usual place as the league keeper. Sergi Roberto started once again at right-back, with Munir El-Haddadi taking the place of Sandro Ramírez as the partner to Neymar Jr. and Luis Suárez.
It was an insane start. Both teams were alive and running like crazy, igniting plenty of counter-attacks and going forward with a lot of intensity. Barça lined up in a classic 4-4-2 formation, with Munir and Busquets moving to the flanks and leaving Neymar and Suárez as the lone strikers, especially without the ball. Sevilla had a lively start, with dangerous crosses that tested the returning Bravo, but he did well in his first minutes after four weeks away from the pitch. Without the creativity of Iniesta and Messi, Enrique decided to send his team running, and Barça's counters were very dangerous, including chances from Munir and Suárez early on.
As time went on, the pace slowed down and the Blaugrana possession and position game started to appear, but with the lack of ideas in the midfield, no important chances were created. The counter-attack happened again, and Neymar won himself a free-kick. And then the unlucky plays began. The Brazilian played a beautiful ball to the post, the ball hit the goalkeeper's back, hit the post again, rolled all the way through the line, and as Gerard Piqué failed to put the ball in, it fell to Suárez, who hit the post.
Unlucky Play Number Two: Neymar, who had a fantastic half, found Suárez at the edge of the box, and El Pistolero place a gorgeous ball in the top corner, but the ball somehow hit the post again.
A solid first-half performance should have given the Blaugrana goals, but poor/unlucky finishing kept the score clean after 45 minutes. Could the Catalans finally put the game to bed in the second half?
The early signs were not encouraging. Sevilla created a chance with 10 seconds, and Claudio Bravo was forced to take the ball away from Kevin Gameiro's feet, although the play was waived off due to an offside call.
Things got worse when the passing problems showed up again; Sergio Busquets lost a ball that ignited a lightning quick counter-attack by Gameiro, and the French ran all the way to the box, and his low cross went untouched until Michael Krohn-Dehli arrived all by himself to score the opening goal with his left foot. As the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán went crazy, Barça lost the ball again, Vicente Iborra passed it to Krohn-Dehli and went to the box eager to complete the one-two; his teammate didn't disappoint and placed a beautiful cross back to Iborra, who smartly headed it far from Bravo's reach. Two-nothing Rojiblancos.
The satisfying first-half performance disappeared, and Enrique had work to do. Unfortunately, he didn't have a deep bench to find real alternatives, so all he could do was use Dani Alves and Sandro Ramírez to add a little more verticality. Luckily for him, the team improved with Sandro willing to try more than Munir, the guy he replaced. Alves was horrible again, but his entrance allowed Roberto to move up the pitch closer to the box, and the Spaniard played well as a midfielder once again, allowing Jordi Alba to finally offer a lot more support having a player to combine, which wasn't the case with Busquets as an interior. With Alba's offense, Barça pinned Sevilla to their box, and the Rojiblancos did not do anything dangerous for almost 30 minutes. It was time for Neymar to step up again, and he did it, scoring from the penalty spot to give the Blaugranes some life.
The Sevillistas really parked the bus, and that's when goalkeeper Sergio Rico showed up. He stopped three Neymar shots in less than 60 seconds with a couple of unbelievable saves, and he continued to amaze with a few more stops late in the game. When Rico didn't touch the ball, it was Sevilla's outfielders who did the job with a lot of blocks, holding out to a win that hadn't happened in over eight years.
In the end, a disappointing, yet encouraging loss, since we saw signs of good football for the first time in a while. Up next, a two-week international break, with most of the stars staying at home to nurse injuries and/or serve suspensions. It's also good for Lucho to figure out some alternatives. He desperately needs to.
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