The 2018-19 season has officially begun for FC Barcelona and the Catalans started it with a nail-biting win against Sevilla in the Supercopa de España, played in Tangier, Morocco. The win came in comeback fashion as Pablo Sarabia put Sevilla in the early lead, but Barcelona countered with a Gerard Pique tally in the first half, before a Ousmane Dembele screamer sealed the win for Barcelona.
With the Super Cup played in an uncharacteristic one-leg fashion, there would be no chance of a rematch in the return match. Regardless, manager Ernesto Valverde still surprised many with his first official lineup of the season. Clement Lenglet started next to Pique in the heart of the defense, with Samuel Umtiti on the bench. Rafinha was the other major surprise as he took the field in midfield alongside Arthur and Sergio Busquets. Philippe Coutinho also started on the bench as Dembele, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi took their spots up front.
The Catalans started brightly, attacking from the get-go, but the 5-man Sevilla back-line caused Barcelona plenty of problems, holding Barcelona’s attacks to the perimeter. But despite Barcelona’s decent start, it would be Sevilla who would take the lead. On a quick counter-attack, Luis Muriel turned Pique inside-out, forcing Lenglet to offer assistance, leaving the left side of the defense wide open for Sarabia to sneak in and receive the pass from Muriel. All alone in front of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Sarabia made no mistake, putting Sevilla in the lead. Initially, the goal was waved-off due to offside, but VAR, in use for the first time in Spain history, correctly reversed the linesman’s decision.
Barcelona’s first shot of the match came in the 15th minute, with Messi testing Tomaš Vaclik. On several occasions Barcelona combined excellently down the left wing, with Jordi Alba and Dembele making some beautiful plays, and the Messi chance came from a corner kick after the aforementioned duo won a corner kick. A set play from the corner sprung Messi into space, but the Czech goalkeeper made the strong save. A couple minutes later Vaclik stopped Alba as well.
The Catalans were pushing, but Sevilla’s defense was holding. They started to allow chances, but they were able to remain in the lead. Offensively the Andalusian outfit offered very little, launching only a couple counter-attacks, but they managed to finish off one of them. While Sevilla looked confident defensively, Barcelona looked anything but, with plenty of shakiness especially in the heart of the defense.
Barcelona’s play in attack was better organized, thought room for improvement remains, and the Blaugrana created a good scoring chance in the 27th minute. Dembele won a free kick on the left side that Messi swung into the area. There, he found Lenglet who powered a header toward goal, but just sent it over the crossbar.
The Catalans continued to attack and created a flurry of chances around the 35th minute, but nobody in Blaugrana colors could get a shot off. Dembele, Alba and Suarez could’ve all reacted better after a very useful Nelson Semedo back-pass that resulted in a frenzy deep inside the Sevilla area. However, Vaclik went untested throughout the sequence.
All the attacking efforts from Barcelona were finally rewarded in the 42nd minute. Arthur won a free kick in pretty much the perfect spot for Messi, who indeed sent a fabulous try on goal, but was denied by the post. The ball, however, after a couple bounces squirted in front of goal where Pique reacted best, getting first to the rebound and tying the game at one. Sevilla were hoping VAR would come to their rescue once again, but replays showed there wasn’t even a hint of offside.
Sevilla, who hadn’t crossed midfield with any real intent in over ten minutes, looked to respond immediately, with Muriel and Sarabia playing starring roles once again. The Colombian striker powered his way past Semedo before finding Sarabia in the middle who eluded Lenglet. Sarabia powered a shot on goal, but was denied by the excellent reflexes of ter Stegen.
The action quickly returned to the other side of the pitch, where it had been for the majority of the game, but the halftime whistle followed moments later and the entertainment in Morocco was interrupted.
To start the second half, Valverde brought on Ivan Rakitić to replace Rafinha, who had been largely anonymous throughout the first half. Barcelona dominated possession after the restart, but once again, like in the early going of the first half, the Sevilla defense allowed very little. Even though the Catalans were making countless passes inside Sevilla’s half, Messi and company couldn’t get even near Vaclik’s area.
Valvarde again looked to his bench in the 53rd minute, bringing on Coutinho in place of Arthur. Sevilla then launched their first promising attack of the second half, which caused all too many problems to the Catalans, but in the end ter Stegen went untested. Six minutes later, Sevilla made their first change with newcomer Andre Silva replacing the always dangerous Muriel.
Sevilla were becoming increasingly more dangerous, and on a corner kick in the 62nd minute, Franco Vazquez hit the crossbar from a tough angle. Barcelona created their best opportunity of the half in the 63rd minute when Messi found Dembele, who exploited a soft spot in-between Sevilla defenders, but Vaclik was able to stop Dembele’s low drive.
While Barcelona were again retaking control of the game, Sevilla would be the next to threaten, with Vazquez again trying his luck, this time from distance, only just missing the far post. At the 70-minute mark, a familiar face was brought on by Sevilla in Aleix Vidal who replaced Sarabia, arguably Sevilla’s best player.
Slowly but surely, Barcelona went back to building long attacks as Sevilla once again tightened their ranks. There was very little space for Barcelona to work with, though Messi, Dembele and Coutinho combined excellently in the 77th minute to create a half-chance, but Messi’s attempt was blocked by the defense. The very next minute, both Suarez and Messi were denied in brilliant fashion by Vaclik. But just seconds later, before the clock struck 79 minutes, Dembele stunned the crowds in Tangier with a golazo from the right side. Receiving the ball from Messi, Dembele took a couple steps, all the while looking at his options, before launching a howitzer of a strike to the far post that went in off the crossbar.
But Sevilla had no intention of going quietly into the night, quickly going to the attack, however the absences of Muriel and Sarabia were evident. Noticing a shortage of options in attack, Sevilla brought on Wissam Ben Yedder for Gabriel Mercado. Moments later, Arturo Vidal received his Barcelona debut in place of Dembele.
Sevilla were pushing for the equalizer and had a good look on goal after a fortuitous bounce following a ter Stegen punch-out, but Vazquez couldn’t capitalize. But Sevilla would get an even better chance in the last minute of regulation as Aleix Vidal won a penalty kick for his new team after a collision with ter Stegen. Ben Yedder was hoping to send the German the wrong way, but he did not, and ter Stegen made it look incredibly easy with the save, preserving the lead.
Three minutes were added on, but Sevilla couldn’t get much going after the missed penalty. Busquets did have to block a shot in the dying seconds of the game, but Barcelona held on to celebrate their first of hopefully many trophies in the new season – their first with Messi as the captain.
Before La Liga officially kick-off, Barcelona will host their annual Joan Gamper game which will be played on Wednesday at 6:15pm local time against Boca Juniors.