A combination of wasteful finishing, poor luck, a spirited fight 2nd half fight back from Sevilla, and a sprinkle of bizarre referring means we could not celebrate Pep’s 1000th day in charge with a victory. Sevilla were bloody awful first half but came out fighting in the 2nd to earn a 1-1 draw. Objectively, a draw away to Sevilla isn’t bad and with the gap at 5 points, the league is still ours to lose.
We started the game very much in the ascendency and frankly, Sevilla’s game plan was obvious from the start. This game plan being the all to familiar 10 men behind the ball, let’s hope we are lucky on a counter attack or set piece. But, with just 8 minutes on the clock, we broke through with a lovely placed Messi free kick. Well, we thought we had broken through. The referee made an absolutely ridiculous decision to disallow the free kick because of some “fouling” done by Busquets with a Sevilla player behind the wall. Honestly, the ref knew he was going to blow the whistle before the ball was even kicked. He had chatted to them before the kick about the pushing and shoving and in an act to stamp his authority on the play I can bet you he premeditated blowing that whistle if he saw the slightest inclination of pushing or shoving. The problem with these sorts of calls is the incredible inconsistency of them.
Then in the 14th minute Pep was forced to make a substitution when Pedro appeared to have picked up a muscle strain when he overstretched for a ball. That saw the introduction of Bojan, who interestingly was not even supposed to make the 7 on the bench before the game and was only included as Jeffren picked up a niggle during the pre-match warm-up.
The rest of the half we dominated in such a huge way. I’m rather embarrassed for other teams who seemingly have neither intention nor courage to play us in a normal match of football. Many Sevilla fans were feeling similar during the match with constant whistling when we had almost 80% of possession. Sure, they were whistling to disrupt us, but I’m sure they were unimpressed the team they pay good money to watch had no intention of trying to win.
Between the 15 and 20th minute we were showing decent penetration, particularly from Adriano and Alves on the wings. Alves was called offside in the 16th minute, which I thought was level, and then in the 17th minute Adriano got in the box but Fazio made a strong last ditch tackle.
In the 24th minute Sevilla had their only attacking highlight to speak of, which was the penalty shout. They got a freekick, which was whipped in from the right and when Zakora was running to attack the ball he and Alves accidentally collided their legs. It was completely accidental and if they got a penalty there, it would have been a joke.
But finally in the 30th minute we broke through. One of Alves’s runs was timed to perfection, the linesman didn’t raise his flag, and Dani got onto the end of Iniesta’s wonderfully weighted lobbed pass. The Brazilian took it down perfectly and with his second touch squared it to the open Bojan. Now, despite the perfection of the set up, Bojan’s finish was far from secure. He tried to take a touch and when trying to follow up on it, Caceres got right onto him. The ball basically trickled over the line after a combination of Bojan holding off Caceres and Caceres trying to win the ball resulted in nobody touching it and eventually it went in.
Villa then blew a decent chance 8 minutes later after Iniesta did some lovely work to penetrate near the box and released the ball right. Villa just skied it over and up till then he was nearly non-existent in the game. The one note I will add though is he was trying to make runs all night, some quite good and his teammates didn’t seem keen to lose possession for a hopeful ball.
In the 42nd minute Messi nearly made it 2. Messi passed it to Xavi, who held the ball perfectly while Messi darted into the box. Our magical 6 put in a perfect ball into Messi’s path and our little Argentine put a thumping header in that rebounded off the bar. Unlucky.
A minute later Messi made a great run, with about 5 people trying to stop him, he however should have passed left to Adriano (who honestly was wasteful upfront tonight) but went to Bojan in the middle, who got fouled. Off the freekick Messi made Varas save it.
The 44th minute saw a half chance for the home team when Adriano missed an easy header to clear the ball from a cross and if Capel had been more awake he may have capitalized on the mistake.
The half ended with Messi down on the ground in pain, but personally, I wasn’t too worried as it looked like a knee-to-knee collision. Having had a few of those myself, I know they are painful but they aren’t an injury in the strict sense of the word.
But, the 2nd half could not have been any more different from the first. Whether he heard the criticism from myself above, or the groaning of the fans, Manzano definitely saw something that persuaded him to change tactics. I suspect it was our forgiving first half as well as some tiredness and also weaknesses in Villa, Bojan, and Adriano. His decision to bring on Kanoute was instrumental, as the Malian changed the game totally and throughout the 2nd half he held the ball up brilliantly and caused mountains of problems for the defense.
And in just 4 minutes, Sevilla capitalized on our wastefulness first half with a goal. Pique got caught horribly out of position when he chased an attacker down, which left a huge gap in the defense. A ball was fed to Negredo, who showed strength to keep both Abidal and Alves from tackling him. He was forced wide but managed to drag a cross back into the danger area, which Navas headed in and it was 1-1.
The game changed totally from now on. Sevilla were pumped up and the crowd really got behind them. From the tight first half we totally bossed, the 2nd was an open game with end-to-end chances.
Now, in the 51st minute, just 2 minutes after equalizing, Bojan should have punished Sevilla. I cannot even remember who slotted the ball through to him because I was so angry. He was behind the defense but showed a horrendous first touch and the chance was over. It was truly wasteful and not a touch expectant of a player on our team.
Then just one minute later Negredo showed some wastefulness of his own. Adriano, who had an absolute stinker tonight, put in a hospital pass to Busquets that was intercepted, and fell to Negredo who had a clear sight at goal. Luckily for us, his left footed attempt on goal was just terrible and went well high and wide.
The game was really heated at this point, with tackles flying in, mostly from Sevilla. Xavi got into a bit of a stare down with Chilean Medel.
In the 65th minute Adriano was once again pathetic when given a decent opening in the box. We take a lot of time, effort, and patience to create open spaces against defenses that pack the box and Adriano was just throwing them all down the toilet. I was hugely unimpressed with him again tonight, as were the commentators. He is nowhere near the level those in Sevilla were blessed with for many years.
Messi definitely had a quieter 2nd half but in the 68th minute he nearly scored another wonder goal if not for a focused Javi Varas. He did a signature dazzling weaving run, leaving 3 Sevilla defenders dead in their tracks. He was one on one with Varas, but the Sevilla goalkeeper rushed out well and made the angle too tight for Messi to squeeze the shot past him.
The 71st and 73rd minute had Bojan at center stage. In the 71st he was again awful on the ball when given solid space on the left hand side. Then in the 73rd, he again got himself into a space, but he just could not make use of it. His touch was clumsy all night and he could not get his body position right for a proper strike on goal. This time however we may have gotten a penalty out of it. Navas put in a silly tackle that in honesty didn’t get near the ball. But Bojan looked too unconvincing for the ref to give it. It looked in the live feed like Bojan simply messed up again and then looked for a soft penalty. Replay showed differently but I cannot blame the ref this time, despite the fact he had a pretty crappy evening out.
Navas nearly made it 2-1 in the 75th minute if not for the alertness of Victor Valdes. Perotti had come on for the ever-diving Capel and caused us huge problems. An awesome flick from Kanoute put Perorrti in acres of space on the left side (Pique again got caught out by coming up very forward and not getting a block on the ball). He then squared it, it came all the way across the box, Navas came dashing in, struck it (not totally cleanly), but Valdes managed to close the angle enough and then get his feet on it to make the block. Just 3 minute later, Perotti again got the better of Pique and thankfully this time on the pull back Kanoute fluffed his shot.
The last 10 minutes however belonged to us and we were unlucky not to score. In the 81st minute Bojan finally did something positive and sent in a lovely low cross from the right which Messi was literally centimeters from getting onto. Then in the 85th minute Iniesta absolutely cracked the crossbar. He received a ball on the top of the box and seemingly had enough of just passing it around just put his foot through the ball and Varas was very lucky the bar saved him again.
We then nearly struck a dagger in the Sevilla hearts when Messi’s wizardly again saw him break into the box, have a shot on goal, which rebounded off a defender and fell right to Iniesta. Iniesta’s shot beat the keeper but Medel had gone to the line and saved a point for Sevilla.
This really was a game of 2 halves. We totally dominated the 1st and should have ended that 45 minutes up by at least 2. It must be noted though the ref didn’t help us with his ridiculous decision (how annoying was it also in the 2nd half when ever single time we put a ball into their box from either a corner or freekick the ref just blew a foul against us!). The 2nd half though Sevilla came out fighting and as much as we could have gone up a few goals, we also could have conceded some. Tonight, we had some particularly poor individual performances. Pique did not impress, but the worst players by a mile were Adriano, Villa, and Bojan. Villa just had no impact what so ever tonight and for the first time I was properly disappointed in him. He looked almost uninterested and fed up none of his runs were being spotted, but then the few times he got the ball, he did nothing. Bojan was also rubbish. His touch was funky and he was simply muscled off the ball with too much ease time after time. Iniesta was by far our most impressive attacking spark tonight, so congratulations to him.
But, 1-1 in Sevilla is not a bad result. When you start the La Liga campaign, any reasonable coach looks at away games at Valencia, Sevilla, and Madrid and can live with zero points. One point is respectable and 3 points is a bonus. Considering the physically and emotionally draining match Tuesday night, maybe it was over expecting to have us win again. Still, it is hard to forget the domination first half, disallowed goal, and 2 cross bars tonight.
We are 5 points in front of Madrid with 9 matches to go. We only really have two tough games left, Madrigal on April 2/3 and then Real Madrid April 16/17. Madrid themselves have a tough run of away games with Atletico Madrid, Bilbao, then Valencia, then Sevilla, and finally Villarreal. So basically, let’s not panic tonight.
Valdes 8, Alves 7.5, Pique 6, Abidal 8 (how cool was his crazy defensive header thing), Adriano 4 (Maxwell 6), Xavi 7.5, Busquets 7.5, Iniesta 8.5, Pedro 6 (Bojan 5), Villa 4 (Keita 6), Messi 8