Barcelona faced Sevilla with two objectives: maintaining the safe distance that separates them from Atlético Madrid and stamping Real Madrid’s failure in the league, leaving them behind by 12 points. Besides that, a victory would work as revenge for the defeat at the Ramón Sanchez Pizjuán, completing a full league half without losing and equalizing the historic record of 34 unbeaten matches in a row in all competitions, held by Leo Beenhakker’s Madrid.

In order to achieve it, Luis Enrique had his top-class XI available, though the doubt of Busquets dragging any hassle from Tuesday’s match at the Emirates still existed. Ultimately, the one from Badia started the match, but Aleix Vidal, Mathieu, Sergi Roberto, and Arda gave some rest to Alves, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Iniesta. It seems clear that the point advantage allowed Luis Enrique to rest some key players, thinking of the decisive part of the season.

On the opposite bench, Unai Emery had to deal with significant absences: to the injured Pareja and Krychowiak joined Éver Banega, suspended after getting booked for the fifth time on the previous matchday against Rayo Vallecano. The absence of the Argentinian playmaker was especially hurtful because, besides being in great physical form, he usually gives great performances against the Blaugrana. His ability to overcome the first pressing rival and to lead his teammates toward the counterattack is something to be missed in a field like Camp Nou.

Sevilla’s coach established a plan similar to Atlético’s in their last visit to Camp Nou: a well-organized 4-4-2 with the lines close together, with Iborra playing on the same line as Gameiro, who let Barcelona progress to the midfield and then denied them any inside space. Sergi Roberto and Arda barely participated in the playmaking, and even with the incorporations of Alba and Aleix Vidal, most of the Blaugrana attacks died on the wings due to little supremacy.

When Sevilla recovered the ball, their ways to damage Barcelona were quite clear: ball to Krohn-Dehli on the left and progression toward Trémoulinas to penetrate by the zone of Aleix Vidal, who was still lacking in defense. That was how Vitolo’s goal was conceived, even if it wasn’t a counterattack, but a throw in so well played by Sevilla as it was poorly defended by Barcelona, with a failed anticipation by Piqué that unraveled the Blaugrana defense.

After the goal, Luis Enrique made some adjustments that changed the match: Jordi Alba participated less in attack, helping Busquets in recovery assignments as Alves often does on the other side and allowed Arda to widen the pitch, a task in which he seemed more comfortable than being on the inner side. The chain movement started by the center backs and the Blaugrana pivot allowed that, on the other side, Aleix Vidal could attack without worrying so much about his back, which also allowed Messi to leave the side and appear assiduously on the center lane, where he associated in short spaces with Suárez and Neymar. That’s how the ‘10’ managed to do what the midfielders had not, penetrating the defensive mesh by the center and generating real danger.

In one of those combinations, a heel-pass by Neymar allowed Luis Suárez to face Rami, who had to bring him down when he found himself beaten by the Uruguayan’s move (no one is better than Suárez in dribbling with the body, without touching the ball). The subsequent free kick was nailed in the upper corner by Messi, his sixth free-kick goal this season, and all of them with the team tied or behind the score.

It seemed just a matter of time for the second goal to arrive, and it did right at the start of the second half, after a new combination of Messi and Suárez, who ended it assisting (his 11th this season) Piqué, for the center back to turn the scoreboard around as if he was a pure striker.

With nothing left to lose, Emery ordered his men to press the opponents and let Konoplyanka and Juan Muñoz in, to refresh Sevilla’s attack. Luis Enrique answered by getting Alves, Iniesta, and Rakitic in, for the top-class XI to end the match. He wanted to finish it as he’s been doing it lately, allowing some rival penetration to generate the space needed by the MSN to fire up a counterattack, but Rico’s great interventions and the inability of the referee to see a penalty on Neymar after a spectacular play by the Brazilian kept the third goal away from Barcelona.

Bravo was also a protagonist by denying the best chance for the Andalusians in the tug-of-war, but in spite of the final nervousness in the tight score and the two corner kicks from Sevilla in stoppage time, Barcelona achieved a victory that allows them, beyond the records, to get a little bit closer to a new league title. And as it happened with Atlético, with the additional merit of achieving it by reverting the score against a great team that made it quite clear that they will play their hearts out in the Copa del Rey final. All in all, only a few things can demoralize the rivals than in most of the cases, not even a fantastic play is enough when you’re facing Lionel Messi’s Barcelona.

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