analysis | 2015-08-12
Pedro’s Magic Wand
Barcelona's hard fought conquest of the 2015 European Super Cup
Messi is so decisive that a prematch analysis can end up in nothing, affecting the final score and the match review. During Sevilla’s first attacking opportunity, Banega scored from a free kick while ter Stegen couldn’t do anything but look, and everything pointed out Barcelona would need a superlative Messi performance, who earlier began his preseason for nights just like this one.
And the superb performance arrived, just not quite as we expected. After Banega’s goal, who took advantage of Mascherano’s foul at the edge of the area, Messi also had two free kicks in the other side, one also close to the penalty area and the other far away. In the 15th minute, Barcelona were already winning 2-1. Messi scored his brace shooting to the same side, despite Beto’s efforts who dived towards the ball, but on both occasions he couldn’t make the save. The relevance of the psychological aspect: Sevilla went ahead in the scoreboard and they had the match at their disposal. But Messi didn’t even blink an eye. And the match was again favorable to Barça.
Furthermore, Rafinha was playing in Neymar’s spot - Pedro has a foot out the door- and Krychowiak was playing as a centre back alongside Rami. The Pole’s position, conditioned by the injuries, was key because Sevilla lost control of the midfield against Iniesta and especially Messi, who began playing in the wing but conducted the ball to the inside, overcoming Banega and Krohn-Deli by himself. Rakitic’s role helped by being positioned way up, and Alves’ role as a winger. His renewal was key to Barcelona.
Emery’s players were defending in 4-4-2 formation, with Gameiro and Iborra marking Mascherano and Piqué entering the opponent's side. Their attacking plan was the long pass to Iborra while seeking continuous plays. But Busquets and Mathieu, both excellent in covering for Mascherano in the first half, didn’t allow Iborra to connect comfortably with his teammates. Barcelona’s high pressure was a block with all the lines moving together and even Messi himself was involved in the defensive plan, by making it harder for Krychowiak and Tremoulinas to begin plays.
Barça had a clear purpose. Where before there were two passes, now there were four or five. Each player held the possession longer than before. They paused the rhythm and were asking Sevilla to come out of their area. And when Sevilla obliged, Messi moved to the inside and the passes moved towards him. Rafinha also contributed with attacking options, receiving the ball with his back to the goal, holding the ball and turning to keep the possession.
Suárez scored off a Mathieu assist, but the goal was disallowed because he was in an offside position. And shortly afterwards, right before halftime, Sevilla had a chance on a set piece play which was dangerous for Barcelona but ended up hurting the Andalusians. Barça recovered the ball and they looked for Suárez immediately and the Uruguayan faced Beto all alone. He missed, but two of his virtues -- although it doesn’t seem like it -- are the perseverance and patience to give the right pass at the exact moment. He waited for Rafinha to step in the goal area and with a nutmeg included, he found the Brazilian for the 3-1.
At the beginning of the second half, Sevilla wasn’t competitive. Losing the ball in their own half and the horizontal passes with so much to lose and so little to win, allowed Busquets to play up in the pitch, a circumstance which Suárez took advantage of to score the fourth goal. Barcelona smelled blood and looked for the fifth, but in a counterattack commanded by Vitolo, Sevilla reduced the difference. On this occasion, Barcelona struggled to get back to defense, especially Mathieu who was covering the central zone when Mascherano was already there, which left Reyes all alone on the far post.
If the beginning of the second half wasn’t good for Sevilla, everything changed with their second goal. With a lot of time left on the clock, Emery’s team began to gain the possession of the ball, pounding on the right flank, where Alves didn’t have enough help from Rakitic. Barcelona had relaxed and Sevilla took notice: attacks down the left wing and the cross to the far post, where Mascherano was struggling as a centre back. On one of these plays, Mathieu committed a foul in the penalty area and Gameiro scored the third one for the Andalusians.
Luis Enrique saw the weakness in the aerial game and he positioned Bartra alongside Piqué, relocating Mascherano to the midfield with Busquets. Rafinha was the one subbed off. Unai Emery answered back by bringing on Immobile and Mariano Ferreira. After a throw-in, Bartra tried to anticipate Immobile instead of holding the defense line as was required. He lost the ball and Konoplyanka scored with ease. Sevilla had tied a match which clearly seemed to be in favor of the Catalan side. That’s football.
Even if the match was taking a toll on the team’s physical state, Barcelona’s main problem was the lack of defending order and competitive tension. Sevilla believed they could tie the match as they witnessed how, without Iniesta’s leadership and with Messi fading, Barcelona let the minutes run by without competing. Luis Enrique realized this amid Mascherano’s weakness and Mathieu showing concentration problems in defense, despite having good incorporations when attacking.
The match went to overtime and Luis Enrique subbed in Pedro for Mascherano. Barcelona regained the match control by keeping the ball on the opposite side but Sevilla was solid in defense, leaving only one player in front of the ball and with the two defensive lines very close to each other. Barça kept possession, but they were unable to generate some danger if Messi didn’t appear, to whom Sevilla gathered around.
Football, like life itself, is a roulette. We won’t be asking who wrote the script for this match because it was played by footballers. The clash could have several outcomes. One of them was with Messi nailing yet another goal from a free kick. He didn’t score, though. Messi tried for a second time after the block. But Beto’s save was pounced on by Pedro, the same player linked with a move to Manchester United, his desire confirmed by the club’s Sporting Director, Robert Fernández, before the match.
Pedro scored, as he did it in Monaco six years ago, where he started his triumphant cycle with Barça, a cycle which probably ended tonight in Georgia. His opportunism, or as Mascherano put it at the end of the game, the “magic wand” the Canarian has, gave his team the European Super Cup, just like that summer night back in 2009 in Monaco.
Messi determined the match during several minutes, statically and in motion. Barcelona lost their concentration and control of the game when Iniesta was subbed off. And Sevilla, with a lot of bravery and that perennial attacking play -- down the left wing and cross to the penalty area -- frightened Barcelona’s defense and showed the three substitutions' importance in these kind of matches.
Iniesta raised the European Super Cup while Pedro gazed and clapped, maybe remembering his decisive goal, or looking over his career as a Blaugrana. Closing, with his magic wand, a cycle that will go down in the club’s history.
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WRITTEN BY: Perarnau Magazine
The Perarnau Magazine was founded by Martí Perarnau, former high jump athlete, currently working as a journalist and known author of "Pep Confidential". The magazine is one of Grup 14 partners, publishing their content in English and Spanish.