Barcelona‘s title ambitions faced a stern challenge from a Sevilla side desperate to arrest their slump in form on Saturday.
However, a trademark Lionel Messi match-winning display blew the hosts away who went from leading 2-1 approaching the final 20 minutes to losing 4-2 courtesy of the Argentine’s hat-trick.
Jesus Navas opened the scoring in the 22nd minute as Barca were hit on the break before a sensational Messi volley saw them draw level. Gabriel Mercado then restored the lead for the home team but Messi cancelled it out again with a sublime curler with his weaker foot.
La Liga‘s leading scorer then put the visitors ahead when Carles Alena’s deflected pass fell kindly into his path and he lifted it over the keeper before setting up Luis Suarez for a fourth goal to kill off the tie.
MESSI MAGIC IS UNFAIR
It’s almost unfair that Barcelona are allowed to have a player like Messi in their team. Some may go as far as to say it’s borderline cheating.
What do we marvel at this time, then? The fact that he almost single-handedly led an ordinary Barca side back from the brink of defeat and dragged them towards three vital points? His remarkable feat to score a 50th career hat-trick for club and country? His sensational finishes for each of his three goals at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium? Or his clever, nonchalant ball over the top for Suarez to add the icing on the cake with a fourth goal for the visitors? Take your pick.
It must be an absolute dream for Ernesto Valverde to know that, nine times out of ten, Messi will deliver the goods. As the opposition’s manager, it must be frustrating to no end. Sevilla put in a superb performance, one that Pablo Machin should be immensely proud of – only Messi’s genius denying them a famous victory.
Sevilla can be forgiven for being sick of the sight of Barca’s talisman. He’s scored 36 goals in 35 games against them. His hat-trick takes him to 25 goals in La Liga this season, Suarez is second with 16. He may as well receive the Pichichi award now.
SEVILLA ON THE SLIDE
Given their sensational start to the league campaign, anything less than a top four finish will be a disappointment for Sevilla. With just one win in their last nine La Liga outings now, they’re running the risk of missing out on Champions League football next season. Their poor run has also included five defeats with the 3-0 loss at Villarreal last week particularly jarring.
Los Rojiblancos have maintained a rather free flowing attack throughout and scoring goals hasn’t been a concern this season. With 40 goals in this campaign, only Barcelona (65) and Real Madrid (41) have scored more in Spain’s top flight. However, with 32 goals conceded at the other end, only Eibar (34) boast a worse defensive record in the top half of the table.
The good news for Machin and his side is that their fixture list does ease up a bit now with Atletico Madrid and Getafe their only two games against a top six side for the rest of the season. However, a prolonged Europa League campaign could prove tricky to navigate.
ARTURO STRUGGLES TO FIT IN
Paulinho’s signing last season was met with raised eyebrows. The Brazilian had been plucked from the Chinese Super League, away from the highest level of football and didn’t seem like a player who would naturally blend with Barcelona’s style. He proved critics wrong – albeit for a single season – and his case was cited when Arturo Vidal was snapped up by the Catalans.
However, the Chilean has not enjoyed similar success. Instead, with every passing display it only becomes more apparent that he’s out of his depth. Vidal remains a footballer of a high standard but it’s clear he’s not Barca material. Paulinho understood when to drive forward and when to prioritise retaining possession while his positioning was never quite as erratic as Vidal’s has been.
It could be argued that Arthur’s injury has somewhat forced Valverde’s hand and he has no choice but to play the 31-year-old but given Carles Alena’s emergence – and impressive displays – that’s not entirely accurate.
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