Barça has started on a stuttering note in February with just one win and 4 draws coming against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao in the league, against Lyon in the Champions League and the other against Real Madrid in the Cup. The fixture list got only tougher as they travelled to Sevilla with two Classico’s coming up in a row, one in the Copa and the other in La Liga.
Barça was beaten last time they played at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in the Copa del Rey. Although the performance against Real Valladolid left a lot to be desired, they would be relieved to maintain a 7-point lead against Atlético Madrid and a 9-point lead against Real Madrid, who sit in the third place.
Formation and Lineups
The big news for Barça was the return of Samuel Umtiti as he returned to the starting line-up after a lengthy injury layoff. Although Valverde would have wanted to rest Messi, the crucial away fixture and Suarez’s patchy form probably decided against it.
Arthur wasn’t fully fit which forced him to start Vidal in his place alongside Rakitic and Busquets in the midfield. Coutinho got another opportunity to impress as he started in the place of Dembélé.
Sevilla’s form has tapered down as they have slipped to 5th place. Their recent results show losses coming against Villareal and Celta, and a draw against Eibar.
Sevilla almost opened the scoring in the opening minute as the ball from the left flank found Promes whose toe-poke forced Ter Stegen to make a brilliant save. The replays, however, showed he was in an offside position.
Barça slowly settled into the game and saw a lot of the ball although they didn’t create too many chances with Sevilla looked dangerous in each of their attacks. Most of the Barcelona attacks came through Messi as he looked very sharp and took on the defenders.
However, it was Messi who misplaced the ball near the Sevilla box which started the counter-attack leading to Sevilla’s opening goal. Barça would have been disappointed also in the way they conceded as just a couple of passes split open the entire defence and found Navas who slotted it past Ter Stegen.
Messi made amends for his misplaced pass with a brilliant goal. Rakitic, from the left flank, found him just inside the box as he connected the volley first time and blasted it past the helpless Vaclik into the top corner.
Barça continued to attack and Piqué almost found the second goal as Messi found him in an advanced position, but he couldn’t get away from Sergi Gomez who stood his ground to deny him a shot on goal.
Sevilla responded by creating a flurry of chances starting with Promes as he chased down a ball over the top and his powerful shot from a tight angle ended high over the bar. Minutes later it was Ben Yedder as he wriggled past Piqué, but his cross couldn’t find any Sevilla player in the box.
Eventually, the constant pressure from Sevilla resulted in their 2nd goal as Barça defence was caught napping. A clearance from Ter Stegen was headed back up the field which set Sarabia free. He managed to pull the ball back and found Mercado just inside the box. However, the Barça defence inexplicably stood standstill as he poked his shot past the helpless Ter Stegen to take the lead. Barça were lucky to go into the half-time with just a goal down.
Dembélé came in place of Vidal at the beginning of second-half and his impact was visible immediately as his pacy run resulted in a free-kick and a yellow card for Marko Rog. Dembélé had a great chance as Suarez pass found him inside the box with just the goalkeeper to beat, but he scuffed his effort.
Barça continued to put pressure on the Sevilla defence as they won a number of corners and free-kicks. Suarez was brought down in the penalty box, but the referee ignored his protests and managed to play on. Finally, Barça found the equalizer and unsurprisingly it was Messi who found the back of the net for the second goal of his match. Dembélé teed up Messi just outside the box, and the little Argentine dribbled past a couple of Sevilla players and finished with this weaker foot into the top right corner.
Coutinho was subbed for Aleñá with just over 10 minutes remaining. The youngster made an immediate impact as he was able to move the ball quickly and also link up well with Messi. It was Aleñá’s shot that started the move for Barça’s third goal. With 3 minutes remaining before the regular time, Roberto found Aleñá on the edge of the box, whose first-time shot was deflected by Kjaer into the path of Messi. Messi, then calmly dinked it over the oncoming Vaclik to put Barça into the lead and complete his hat-trick.
Suarez put the game to bed in the injury-time as Messi found him with a brilliant lofted pass, who lifted it over Valcik.
Barça provisionally goes 10-points clear of second-placed Atlético Madrid.
- Messi’s Game
Messi completed yet another La Liga hat-trick which takes his tally to 50. Add to that another brilliant assist to Suarez, he was by far the best player on the pitch. He single-handedly won the game for Barça.
- Alenya needs to start more
Although Aleñá was on for the last 15 minutes, his impact was visible. He moved the ball quickly, linked up well with Messi and was partly responsible for Messi’s third goal. He brings the much-needed creativity for the midfield. I would even go on and say he should start the Classico.
- Decision on Coutinho
A majority of Culésare disappointed and angry with Coutinho’s performance and their patience is running out too. He is lacking in confidence which is understandable, but the real disappointing aspect is his work rate and the desire which is what differentiates Suarez from him. Sooner or later, Barça would have to take a decision on him. It’s sad that a player of his ability is losing his way at Barça.
Ter Stegen- 6/10
- Conceded twice, although didn’t have a chance with either of the goals.
Piqué – 6/10
- He tried his best but was left exposed many times by his defensive partners.
- His first game after his long injury layoff. He looked rusty and was caught out of position many times.
- Another player who didn’t have a great game. He didn’t contribute anything in the attack.
- One of the quieter games for Alba this season.
- A lot of energy in the midfield but lacks creativity.
Rakitic – 7/10
- One of the better performances from Rakitic. He found Messi for the opening goal.
Busquets – 6/10
- Didn’t find the passing lanes.
Suárez – 6/10
- He should have won a penalty but scored the goal to kill the match. Otherwise, didn’t linkup much for the attack.
Messi – 10/10
- Apart from the misplaced pass that led to Sevilla’s opening goal, it was a flawless performance from Leo.
Coutinho – 3/10
- Yet another disappointing performance. He was imprecise with his passing, positioning and shooting.
- He was lively after his arrival. His pace caused a lot of problems for the Sevilla defence. Teed up Messi for the second goal.
- Was brought on in the place of Semedo. He had a decent game.
Aleñá – 6/10
- He had a bigger impact in his 10 minutes than Coutinho in his 78 minutes. His passing looked incisive and his shot led to Messi’s third goal.