A quartet of fine individual goals, including Lionel Messi’s 2019/20 opener, saw ruthless La Liga champions Barcelona roar into the international break with an ominous 4-0 victory against Sevilla, despite finishing with nine men.
Momentum gained via the midweek, come-from-behind victory against Inter Milan in the Champions League was built upon at Camp Nou on Sunday. Not even the 87th-minute dismissal of debutant Ronald Araujo for a pull on substitute Javier Hernandez, then subsequent red card for a protesting Ousmane Dembele, could truly sour the night.
A stupendous few days for Uruguay hit man Luis Suarez continued with a sublime 27th-minute bicycle kick to open the scoring against Julen Lopetegui’s sixth-placed visitors.
The rampaging runs of Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal – selected in place of Spain anchor man Sergio Busquets – were rewarded when he slid home a quick-fire strike from Brazil conductor Arthur’s penetrative pass, before France winger Dembele – in for countryman Antoine Griezmann – skilfully checked back and slotted into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 with 10 minutes left of the opening period.
The Catalans then kept their visitors at arm’s length, prior to Argentine icon Messi netting a textbook 78th-minute free-kick to move onto 37 goals in 38 games versus the visitors. This result placed Barca into second spot, while Sevilla – who will point to more missed chances from new striker Luuk de Jong – have now lost three of their last four top-flight fixtures.
Here are the talking points:
Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde is still not likely to win a popularity contest in Catalonia anytime soon.
Sunday’s orchestration, however, displayed both bravery and bravura in ample amounts. That a sharp Sevilla were so convincingly downed should have guaranteed acclaim rather than opprobrium, for one evening at least.
Commitment to Barca’s sacrosanct 4-3-3 formation was probably behind the bold call to bench €120 million France striker Antoine Griezmann, at the expense of flying compatriot Dembele. A pursuit of added dynamism caused the juncture point of Busquets being dropped in favour of Vidal.
Both additions scored and were among Barca’s better performers. Dembele, in particular, would have relished a first La Liga goal since January.
A balanced, yet physical, midfield also aided a third clean sheet in 10 2019/20 matches.
Even Pique’s late booking ensured he will be suspended for October 19’s trip to Eibar, rather than risk missing this month’s opening El Clasico against leaders Real Madrid. This will make up for some of the late damage inflicted by Araujo and Dembele’s dismissals.
A double-header against Inter and Sevilla looked daunting in the wake of defeat at Granada. Impressive wins herald a warm winter for Barca.
MESSI IS GETTING IN MOTION
Another notable aspect of this Barca victory was how it was earned with Messi on the periphery.
Of course, the term ‘periphery’ becomes redefined when the game’s greatest player is involved. He was not directly involved in any of the opening three goals, yet he still ended the match with the most; touches (94), shots (six), dribbles (10) and passes (66).
This is effectively pre-season for the 31-year-old after the summer’s disruptive calf problem. He pulled the strings in the background as Dembele, Arthur and Suarez – with a third world-class goal in two appearances – shone brightest in the first half.
An air of anticipation then grew after the break. It was sated in some style when Messi curled in a wonderful free-kick to kick off his 2019/20 scoring.
This was, then, a show of growing strength from the Argentine and his team-mates.
SEVILLA COME UP SHORT… AGAIN
Sevilla came to Camp Nou in the mood to play.
They even edged the attempts count by 16-15 over their exalted opponent. The telling statistic, however, came from the fact Barca registered a superior eight attempts on target to the visitors’ four.
Goalless De Jong was, again, the defining figure. A header that bounced over came moments before Suarez’s staggering opener, while he hit the post soon after the restart when excellently positioned.
Their earlier defeat to Real Madrid painted a similar picture of punishment following profligacy.
The sales of Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben Yedder continue to sting.
That’s also nine goals conceded by Lopetegui during two trips to Camp Nou within a year. At least the sack won’t instantly follow this time for the ex-Los Blancos supremo.
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