Camp Nou, Barcelona – There was a lot to take in before the evening entertainment began on Saturday. Messi’s 600th appearance was greeted with an immense storm an hour before kick-off. Fortunately, the thunder and lightning had relented by the time the ball began moving, but waterproof ponchos were still needed by those who decided not to hover at the back of the stands in an attempt to dodge the rain. Once again, politics and sports mixed. Barca fans unveiled a huge Catalan flag and the word ‘justice’ before the match in reference to the arrest of ten Catalan politicians and social activists in relation to the independence referendum. Other banners unfurled behind one of the goals were more forthright by proclaiming, “Free all political prisoners”.
With all that to take in, you’d have been forgiven for missing everything going on on the pitch. And there was a lot going on there too as Barcelona made a fast start. Sergio Busquets, Messi and Luis Suarez all had early chances but La Blaugrana were unable to take the lead. A lapse in concentration from Samuel Umtiti allowed Luis Muriel to have Sevilla’s first sight of goal, but the forward’s attempt just evaded the top corner.
However, as Leo Messi began to toy with the stretched Sevilla defence, eventually, Barca’s early dominance told as Paco Alcacer – whose surprise inclusion saw him starting as a right midfielder in a 4-4-2 – found space in behind the Sevilla defence. A chipped pass over the top was miss-controlled by left-back Sergio Escudero, gifting possession to the poaching Alcacer, who calmly slotted the ball beneath David Soria. Ernesto Valverde’s side looked good for the lead, constantly switching shape and attacking quickly. Sevilla could not get close.
Eduardo Berizzo – whose tenure as Sevilla manager hasn’t started as smoothly as many expected – urged his team to push to the next level during his half-time team talk. Sevilla came out on the front foot for the second-half, snapping at Barcelona with a high press, working harder all over the Camp Nou pitch. Although Barca still had a lot of the ball, they appeared slow and lethargic. Sevilla took advantage in the 58th minute as Guido Pizarro beat Gerard Pique to a header inside the six-yard area at a corner, powering the ball past the helpless ter Stegen. The small number of travelling fans from Andalucia were soaked yet joyous in the unsheltered top-tier.
Valverde responded immediately, sensing a changing of the tide and hauled off captain Andres Iniesta – as he has so often this season – to bring Paulinho into the match. The Brazilian’s direct running and passing made an instant impact and soon enough, Barcelona had restored their lead. Ivan Rakitic – the former Sevilla captain – received the ball in space on the right, waited for Alcacer to make his run and whipped a perfect early cross into the penalty area. Alcacer couldn’t miss and finished at the near post, beating Soria to the ball to score his second of the game.
In the end, Barcelona deserved their win – they were forced to work hard to stretch their unbeaten run to 16 matches. Alcacer outshone his fellow attackers in what was his first start since the opening day of the season but Valverde rather cruelly took the Spaniard off when he was searching for his hat-trick. Luis Suarez worked tirelessly but looked low in self-confidence – he has scored just three times this season and is now on a run of 451 minutes without a goal, his longest drought since he joined the Catalan side in 2014. Suarez’s confidence and that of which Valverde places in him will be tested after the international break with La Blaugrana facing tough away matches against Valencia, Villarreal, and Real Madrid.
Los Otros Puntos
- It was all plain sailing in the rain for Real Sociedad against struggling Eibar in the Basque derby. A thumping header by Willian Jose from an Odriozola cross gave La Real the lead in the 12th minute. Just before the half-hour mark Adnan Januzaj got his first goal for Sociedad – after many attempts – to double the host’s lead. Straight from the second-half kick-off, fan favourite Oyarzabal found himself with plenty of time and space to run straight at the Eibar goal and slot the ball past Dmitrovic. Joan Jordan did manage to provide Eibar with a consolation goal with a well-taken strike in the 72nd minute. Yet, the damage had been done in absolutely foul conditions in San Sebastian – at one stage the pitch was barely visible due to the rain, hail, and wind – Eibar had to make the short journey home with no points and few positives from a bleak afternoon.
- It was friends reunited at Bailados – managers Unzue and Ziganda played together as teenagers at Osasuna – and it was Unzue who got the better of his former teammate on Sunday afternoon. Celta Vigo got their first home league win against Athletic Bilbao in fourteen years – a goal from Sergi Gomez and two from the in-form Aspas essentially put the contest to bed in the first thirty minutes. Raul Garcia did give Athletic a consolation goal but Celta hung on for the deserved win. At full-time, Unzue was smiling whilst Ziganda was left worrying for his job.
- Un golazo!!! Marco Asensio’s seventh goal of the season was the standout moment in Real Madrid’s win against Las Palmas. The 25-yard shot – which was too quick for the camera, too powerful for any goalkeeper to stop, and had the accuracy of a well-trained archer – brought the entire Bernabeu to its feet.
- The travelling Colchoneros had to wait until the 91st minute before they could party at the Riazor. A 25-yard stoppage-time strike by Thomas Partey maintained Atletico’s unbeaten start to the season against Deportivo – although they have drawn five of their eleven games.
- Valencia keep going strong – a 3-0 home win against Leganes.
Real Betis 2–2 Getafe
Valencia 3–0 Leganes
Deportivo 0–1 Atletico Madrid
Alaves 1–0 Espanyol
Barcelona 2–1 Sevilla
Levante 1–2 Girona
Celta Vigo 3–1 Athletic Bilbao
Real Sociedad 3–1 Eibar
Villarreal 2–0 Malaga
Real Madrid 3–0 Las Palmas
El Jugador de la Semana: Paco Alcacer (Barcelona)