Early goals from Xavi Hernandez and Leo Messi earned Barça a deserved 0-2 victory at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan tonight. The three points move Barça to within seven points of rivals Real Madrid who have a home game with Malaga tomorrow evening. Despite the two-goal advantage we never completely controlled the game and there were chances at both ends which could have left a much higher scoreline.
With Eric Abidal’s illness, Pep Guardiola chose to bring in Adriano at left back against his former club. After the initial exchanges it was Adriano who had the first chance when Sevilla allowed him to move forward and his deflected shot very nearly dipped in. Sevilla were playing a high pressing game but once we got past the high press we found plenty of spaces in the Sevilla half. In the 11th minute Cesc sent Pedro in on the left but Pedro shot with the outside of his right foot and Palop saved well low to his right.
Sevilla’s first chance came with Escude’s flicked header wide from a corner but it was Barça looking the more dangerous. Then in the 16th minute Adriano burst forward again and was fouled on the edge of the box. It was a similar position to where Messi surprised Atletico Madrid last month but this time Xavi took it right footed and Palop was a bit slow to get across his goal and despite getting a hand to the ball couldn’t prevent the goal. After Javi Varas’s heroic’s at Camp Nou there may be some questioning Sevilla’s new coach Michel’s wisdom in restoring Palop to the position.
Barça nearly added another goal immediately after when Cesc found Iniesta with another killer pass but Don Andres fire wide. Sevilla responded with a Manu del Moral effort that Valdés beat away at the near post but within a minute Barça had gone further ahead. Cesc looked close to losing the ball but he managed to knock the ball on to Messi who was about 45 yards out, Messi exchanged passes with Iniesta and on receiving the ball back played a sublime nutmeg through Spahic’s legs before beating Palop with a delicious chip.
For a while it looked like we were going to score a hatful, Xavi and Pedro both brought saves from Palop before the half hour. However, with an hour still to play the points were far from being in the bag already. Gerard Piqué has had some iffy moments this season and for the last 15 minutes he looked like he might be capable of throwing the game away. First he was booked for a foul on Manu del Moral, then in the 33rd minute as a cross came in from the left Piqué inexplicably left the ball for Valdés allowing Manu to nip in and head the ball over Valdés and against the post. Kanoute had another chance for Sevilla five minutes later but he volleyed wide after chesting down. Then in the 41st minute Piqué was again caught sleeping allowing Kanoute a run at goal, Adriano was forced to make a last ditch tackle which needed a superb stop from Valdés to prevent the own goal.
Barça struggled to control the game early in the second half as Sevilla fought to try and get back in the game. Valdés had to save low at the near post from Kanoute’s low cross but there were no clear chances at either end. It wasn’t until the 56th minute that Barça created some danger at the other end but Iniesta failed to find Messi after a good run. Then soon after Mascherano anticipated a Sevilla counter and ended up crossing just out of Messi’s reach.
Navas began to come more into the game, sending a good cross to the far post for Manu del Moral to stab wide but time was running out for Sevilla. Iniesta should have scored a third for Barça after Messi sent him through, but after dummying Palop to the ground Iniesta didn’t quite have the balance and sent the ball just wide of the far post. Sevilla’s final chance came when Adriano got the offside wrong, leaving Navas in loads of space but fortunately for us Valdés was again superb to tip Manu’s shot round the post. Barça ended the game the stronger of the sides with Alexis missing a late chance and Messi having a goal ruled out for offside.
The win is our fifth straight league win since the defeat at Osasuna which will keep some pressure on Madrid. There were long periods when we played very well and we really should have scored a couple more, however, the wobbles at the back would be punished by a better team. With Abidal’s absence we need the other defenders to be at their best. The highlight of the game was undoubtedly the Leo Messi goal but there were very good performances from our midfield maestros Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc while Dani Alves deserves credit for another tireless performance and Valdés was very safe in goal.
Finally, I should also mention the messages worn by both teams (thanks Sevilla!) to Abidal before the game. The Barça players wore shirts with the message “Abi, tornarás a guanyar” (Abi, you will return to win)
We now have just three days rest before our next game at home to Granada on Tuesday evening. Here’s Messi’s goal to enjoy again.
Sevilla. Palop; Luna, Spahic (Cala m72), Escude, F.Navarro; Rakitic (Trochowski m58), Medel; Navas, Reyes (Perotti m63), Del Moral; Kanoute.
Barça: Valdés 8; Alves 7.5, Piqué 6, Mascherano 7.5, Adriano 7 (Puyol m85, –); Busquets 7, Xavi 8 (Alexis m83, –), Fabregas 7.5 (Keita m69, 7); Pedro 7, Messi 8, Iniesta 7.5.
Goals: m18 Xavi 0-1, m25 Messi 0-2
Yellow cards: m16 Spahic, m31 Piqué, m49 Escude, m75 Medel, m80 Adriano, m83 Pedro