FC Barcelona secured their first title of the season in quite emphatic fashion on Wednesday evening, cruising to a Manita aggregate win over Sevilla FC. The score on the night was 3-0, as a much-changed Barcelona side cruised to victory courtesy of a fine brace from Arda Turan, and a powerful header from Lionel Messi. While Javier Mascherano was forced off late on with an injury, it was a universally positive night for the Blaugrana as a host of new signings impressed on their debut. If this is what awaits us this season, I simply can’t wait for La Liga to begin in earnest this weekend.
Luis Enrique made a plethora of changes to the team that emerged victorious in the first leg, handing debuts to two new signings, as Samuel Umtiti and Andre Gomes were handed their first starts in place of Gerard Piqué and Ivan Rakitić. Lucas Digne and Denis Suarez were also handed their first starts after impressing off the bench in Sunday’s win, while Munir El Haddadi replaced Luis Suarez in attack. Aleix Vidal replaced Sergi Roberto at right-back to complete the line-up and with a two goal lead to their advantage, who could blame the Blaugrana for ringing the changes?
It was an uncharacteristically late kick-off time for this one, courtesy of UEFA regulations dictating that all domestic matches must be played after the conclusion of a UEFA Champions League qualifier, and the unusual starting time brought about quite a sleepy start for the hosts. After keeping Sevilla at bay for the majority of Sunday’s proceedings, Barça gave up a chance in the first five minutes, allowing Claudio Bravo to be tested at close range from a header. An instinctive save saw the Chilean tip the ball onto the bar, and for a brief moment, it appeared this lackadaisical start would continue.
In a moment of madness, Javier Mascherano placed the ball over his own crossbar with a bizarre attempted cross-field pass as Luis Enrique watched on with a confused expression on his face. Someone should have told him not to worry, while the defense looked sluggish, the sharpness displayed in attack more than made up for it.
Lionel Messi was operating back in his old false nine role with Suarez watching on from the bench and he was relishing the freedom he had been afforded. Picking up the ball in the middle third, Messi played a trademark wall pass with debutant Andre Gomes, accelerated past his man and slipped a through ball past the Sevilla defense to find the run of Arda Turan. The Turkish winger kept his composure and slotted the ball past Sergio Rico to hand the hosts an early lead.
Now three goals to the good, it was painfully apparent to everyone in the stadium that the tie was over, and that Barcelona, if they hadn’t already, were going to win the Supercopa. The atmosphere felt a little flat, and the match took on something of a glorified exhibition feel, briefly coming alive for a few moments of magic.
The combination of Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal set up Lionel Messi for a half-volley that brought the Camp Nou to its feet, only for Messi to let them down as his attempt drifted past the post. Andre Gomes was the next Barça player to try his luck on goal; another impressive play from Denis Suarez was enough to tee up the former Valencia midfielder for a shot from distance, but the Portuguese international also dragged his shot wide of the mark.
Maybe our aim was a touch off, but everything was going to plan. We were winning with ease, entertaining the paying crowd and handing valuable experience to some key new signings – only for the referee to try and spoil it. A relatively innocuous looking cross was blocked by Samuel Umtiti and the referee promptly pointed to the spot. On reflection his whistle for a handball was warranted, as was the yellow card that followed and it was up to Vicente Iborra to try and spoil the evening.
As club captain, Iborra is a Sevilla hero and one of their most consistent performers so they will probably let him off for his rather lame penalty attempt. It lacked any real power and the placement was far too central – he invited Claudio Bravo to make the save and the two-time Copa America-winning captain duly obliged by palming the effort round the post and allowing normal service to resume.
Normal service generally involved Lionel Messi nutmegging some helpless defenders, although Sevilla did once again threaten at the half as a cross from Pablo Sarabia found its way through a crowd of players where Mercado was waiting to meet the loose ball with a diving header. The looping effort left Bravo stranded, but the Argentine defender could only watch on as his effort clipped the crossbar on its way over.
At the half, Barça were 1-0 up, and generally Luis Enrique will have been pleased with his side’s efforts.
Neither side made any changes at the break, although perhaps Jorge Sampaoli would have liked to make one or two in hindsight. While the tie was over, the focus and motivation of the Sevilla players was a little disappointing and a sloppy pass at the back cost them a second goal as Arda Turan pounced in spectacular fashion to clip a first-time shot over Sergio Rico and into the far corner of the net.
It was a sublime finish from the ex-Atleti star, and as the La Liga season draws closer there is a real sense that Arda has finally come into his own in a Blaugrana shirt. Just minutes later he could have completed his hat-trick too, as a superb pass from Lionel Messi set him through but his second attempted chip had a little bit too much power and sailed over the bar.
Not that we would have to wait long for a third; Lucas Digne turned provider for this one with a beautifully weighted cross and who else would climb above the defender to meet the ball with a towering header but Lionel Messi? The Argentine displayed great strength to reach the cross and his effort was too accurate for Rico to keep out. It was party time at the Camp Nou, and Barça were providing the entertainment.
Everyone wanted to get involved in the festivities; Jordi Alba was the first man off the bench to get a taste of action, replacing the impressive Digne and he was soon joined by Sergi Samper and Ivan Rakitić who replaced Sergio Busquets and Denis Suarez. At this stage, the match was nothing more than a training match with the Barça players taking turns to pepper the goal with shots.
Ivan Rakitić forced a good save from the shaky Sergio Rico, and it appeared as though Munir had done excellently well to then keep the rebound in play, outsmart a defender with some excellent trickery and then dispatch a sublime fourth goal – only for the referee to whistle for a goal kick. His efforts deserved a goal, but once again the referee had got the call spot on.
The only negative in the second half was that Javier Mascherano went down with an apparent muscle strain, forcing the Blaugrana to finish the match with ten men. Other than that, it was a perfect night of football, and Culés will no doubt be encouraged about our chances for the season ahead if this is any indication.
Next up, Barça begin their La Liga title defense at the Camp Nou, as they welcome Sevilla’s Andalusian rivals, Real Betis. Until then, Visca el Barça!