A dramatic finish, but not one to savor. As it usually is, history is simply that and despite shipping in plenty goals over the years, Sevilla did not concede tonight. Once again the Sevilla goalkeeper was our undoing but this time it was not Palop, but rather a worthy successor in Javi Varas. The night seemed saved when we were finally given a penalty in the 92nd minute, but some rather repugnant and totally unsportsmanlike conduct from Kanoute and the preceding commotion probably unsettled Messi and our hearts dropped when Varas made the save. A 0-0 draw at home is very much points dropped tonight, and coupled with the pathetic display from Malagá, we see ourselves looking up at Madrid, 1 point ahead of us.
Pep started with the 3-4-3 of Alves, Masch, Abidal, Thiago, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Adriano, Messi and Villa, with Adriano essentially stuck on the right wing as a pure winger. That tactic almost paid quick dividends in the 9th minute with Adriano blitzing past Navarro before pulling it back to Iniesta whose good effort was saved, not for the first time, quite spectacularly by Varas.
Despite Sevilla’s tactics being clearly defensive, they had 2 good chances in the 12th and 20th minute, first from a badly executed chest pass from Abidal to Valdés that Navas nearly converted, then the Sevilla captain did his best off an Alves mistake but our keeper was unwilling to lose his record with a top draw save. Soon after that we reverted to 4-3-3 with Adriano slotting back at leftback.
Varas was at his best again in the 39th minute when some sublime ingenuity from Iniesta played Adriano in, his cut back to Villa was accurate, and David’s shot looked destined for the net but Varas instinctively got a part of his body in the way and saved a sure goal.
2nd half we plugged at them again and Varas did very well to stop an Iniesta shot from nearly outside the box and then Iniesta in the 72nd minute almost scored a ridiculous goal by getting onto a Messi pass and then looping it over Varas, but the shot feel on top of the bar. Pep made very positive substitution bringing in Pedro for Keita then Cesc for Thiago and eventually Busquets for Xavi (I think for height) but we just couldn’t score in the 90 minutes. There were some other chances here and there including a Messi header.
And when you essentially resigned yourself to this draw, Iniesta did some twinkle toe magic and a mistimed lunge from Fazio (I think) clearly brought him down and hope rose again in your heart.
This is where it turns quite sour. Messi stepped up for the penalty, and then something I have never seen happen happened. Kanoute just strolled into the box and kicked the ball off the penalty spot, a clear tactic to unnerve Messi. An obvious yellow card was shown. He was however not done yet, for whatever reason he then basically tangled with Cesc and started a football melee that rightly saw him sent off. All this took a good 3 minutes and the tactic was obviously to unsettle Messi and break the positive momentum we had built.
I had a feeling he would miss and sadly for us Messi showed he is a human being and did not convert his penalty, something that rarely happens. Though I will say that a good 40% of the credit goes to Varas for guessing correctly and putting all he had to getting to that side. Messi usually just nestles the ball into the net after having faked the keeper out, but I think all the pressure and tension of the last minutes had him wanting to just bang it into the corner. No blame at all on Lionel, these things happen.
So, we all know Marcelino went in there with 100% defensive intentions. They had on average 10 men in the final third and towards the end all 11. I have supported Barça my whole life and I suppose as a consequence have always believed in attacking and trying to win, so I find it difficult to credit the tactic of essentially admitting you have no chance and defending 90 minutes, despite the minor illusion of counter attack play. Many say defending, even anti-football, is as much part of the game as attacking, but the competitive athlete in me believes you should try and win, always. So I find it tough to say they deserved a draw because as much as they did defend well, is it really so difficult to look like you defend well when you have 10 defenders? Just a thought.
Either way, as frustrated as I feel, I don’t blame anyone for this result. In games where the opponent parks 10 or 11 behind the ball, which we will face a lot, Barça are ALWAYS only going to create limited chances, usually over 90 minutes against good teams around 4 or 5. We did that tonight. Barça, with Iniesta in particular, broke through the defensive wall the amount of times that is reasonable to expect when faced with such tactics. The difference tonight was our shots tonight could not beat an inspired Javi Varas. This happens in football. There are games keepers just appear unbeatable, I don’t think there is need to cast blame. Even when we got the penalty, you had to think, “Varas seems unbeatable tonight”, and as it happened, this was true.
You can look here and there and say he wasn’t so good, he needed to do better (Pedro), but that’s fruitless and really the team needs to shake this off quick, train hard Monday and go to Granada Tuesday pumped up and motivated to get back to winning ways. Javi Varas just had one of the games, it happens.
Valdés – 8, Alves – 6.5, Mascherano – 8, Abidal – 7, Adriano – 6.5, Xavi – 7 (88th: Busquets – 6), Keita – 6.5 (63rd: Pedro – 6 ), Thiago – 6.5 (74th – Cesc – 6.5), Iniesta- 8.5, Villa – 7, Messi – 7.5