Barcelona finally returned to winning ways in La Liga, recording a big win against the in-form Sevilla, but the three points came at a massive price as Lionel Messi left the match with an injury in the first half. But even in limited time the Argentine still scored and added an assist, as did Luis Suarez, with Ivan Rakitić and Philippe Coutinho also scoring for the Catalans. Pablo Sarabia and Luis Muriel scored for the visitors.
Neither manager was looking to experiment in this top of the table match-up. Sevilla’s Pablo Machín brought out a very aggressive eleven while Ernesto Valverde had to deal with some injuries, but perhaps the only surprise came at the right back spot where Sergi Roberto, just coming back from injury, didn’t start but was again replaced by Nelson Semedo.
Barcelona started the match brightly, pinning Sevilla deep, something that is very difficult to do. Just three minutes in, moments after a threatening corner kick, the Catalans took the lead. The early sustained pressure paid dividends when Messi found Coutinho all alone inside the area and the Brazilian brilliantly beat Tomaš Vaclik to the far post for the very early lead. Because Coutinho was so open, there were questions whether the midfielder was offside, but replays clearly showed the left side of the Sevilla defense played him on.
The visitors looked to quickly respond, launching a couple promising attacks in quick succession. And Sevilla came very close to equalizing in the 7th minute, but Guilherme Arana hit Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s far post. The back and forth action continued with Messi getting a good chance from up close in the 10th minute, but the blocked shot went wide.
But what the Argentine could not do in the 10th minute, he achieved two minutes later as he doubled Barcelona’s lead. A lighting quick counter after a perfect through ball from Suarez left Messi going on goal with only Sergi Gomez in coverage. With seemingly little effort Messi turned Gomez inside out before sending a perfect left-footed strike just inside the far post.
In the 17th minute Messi was left down and in pain after getting tangled up with Franco Vazquez. Replays showed he had the right elbow turned around when hitting the ground. Clearly Messi was not ok - for several minutes he was worked on on the sidelines, having his elbow bandaged up, and in the 24th minute he was escorted down the tunnel. Valverde waited as long as he could if Messi would be able to continue, but in the 26th minute Ousmane Dembele was brought on to replace the Argentine.
With Messi off the pitch the consistent pressure Sevilla was under disappeared. Barcelona remained dangerous, as evidenced by the quick counter from Dembele moments after he joined the game, but Sevilla were seeing more of the ball and were able to spend more time in Barcelona’s third. But Barcelona were defending well, mostly managing to keep Sevilla’s attackers to the outside. Sevilla were, however, getting closer and closer. Meanwhile Barcelona limited their attacking to the counter, but could not add to the lead despite some promising odd man rushes.
Sevilla came closest to scoring late in the first half in the 43rd minute when Daniel Carriço headed Ever Banega’s corner just over the crossbar. Moments later Barcelona had a chance to add to the lead, but Suarez’s shot went right at Vaclik. In the last minute of added time Barcelona had another chance, this time Dembele finding Rakitić in space, but the Croatian’s attempted lob was easily held by Vaclik and Barcelona went into the break up by two.
After the restart Sevilla quickly looked to bring the game within one as they attacked from the whistle. Sevilla’s pressure was increasing from one minute to the next, but Barcelona’s defense was holding, though it wasn’t always pretty. The visitors were clearly dominating the second half as Barcelona couldn’t hold possession for more than a couple seconds.
Sevilla were forced into their first substitution in the 54th minute with Gabriel Mercado replacing the injured Simon Kjær, just seconds after Suarez tried to surprise Vaclik from 30-yards out, but his shot touched off the outside of the post. Barcelona were able to return on the attack after surviving the early pressure, but with Suarez in terrible scoring form there would be nothing to celebrate even though Arthur created a fabulous chance for the Uruguayan, but Suarez’s shot missed by about 15 yards.
At the one hour mark Sevilla appeared to have scored but ter Stegen made two magical saves. For the first he stretched as far as he could to stop Andre Silva’s header. The rebound, however, fell right to Vazquez but somehow ter Stegen was able to save the Spaniard’s try as well. Barcelona quickly made Sevilla pay for the miss as Suarez was sent on the counter attack. First the Uruguayan dribbled through a defender before skipping past Vaclik who brought him down for the penalty. Suarez stepped up himself and confidently sent the Czech goalkeeper the wrong way to increase Barcelona’s lead to three.
In the 67th minute Valverde brought on Roberto in place of Arthur who had another strong game controlling the play. Moments later Roque Mesa replaced Vazquez. Even down by three Sevilla would not go quietly into the night as the Andalusians continued to attack. However, Barcelona would create the next scoring chance as Suarez saw his perimeter shot saved by a diving Vaclik.
Pablo Sarabia then opened the scoring for Sevilla in the 79th minute. A seemingly harmless shot was fired by the Spaniard from the right side, but a deflection off Clement Lenglet’s head left ter Stegen wrong-footed and the visitors were on the board. Two minutes later, Valverde made his final substitution, replacing Suarez with Munir El Haddadi.
Barcelona threated a couple more times, but Sevilla would in the 86th minute create another almost unmissable scoring chance, however, once again ter Stegen made a stunning double save. A defensive breakdown left Sarabia all alone in front of goal, but the German in the Barcelona goal flashed his reflexes to make the save. The rebound fell to Wissam Ben Yedder who quickly fired but a sprawling ter Stegen somehow made another save. And just like after his first double, Barcelona again scored after his second. A broken play left the ball bouncing to Rakitić who fired a half-volley just under Vaclik to put the final nail in Sevilla’s coffin.
Rakitić’s tally, however, would not be the final goal of the game as in the 91st minute Ben Yedder excellently found Muriel who found space behind Semedo. Muriel perfectly placed the curling shot to the far post – and it needed to be a perfect shot to beat ter Stegen. The final score was in the books and Barcelona were back in first place in La Liga, but the Messi injury left a dark cloud over the game.