Lionel Messi and Osman Dembélé lost their title hopes by two points behind Atlético Madrid after their 2–0 win over Sevilla on Saturday. Atletico still have two games on hand, coming in sixth on Sunday against Villarreal, but a dip as the leaders of La Liga have given their rivals rivals hope. Barca were dead and buried a few weeks ago, but it was their ninth win out of 10 in La Liga, a surge that put them in contention, with Atletico playing next weekend with Real Madrid.
Sevilla started the day as a sure-form team that won their last six league games, winning the last five of them without a goal.
But they were in second place in Ramon Sánchez Pizzo, a major performance from Barcelona still exposed them slightly less than Spain’s top three.
This creates an intriguing back-drop in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Wednesday, when the two teams meet again, and will be expected to face a 2–0 defeat at Camp Nou with Barca.
Pedri and Ronald Araujo may be suspected after both were substituted in the second half of what looked like injury problems.
Coach Ronald Cowman could very well live with his new 3-5-2 system, with Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest playing as a back-to-back wing-three and with Dembele Messi positioned at the front.
Without Antoine Griezmann, who fell on the bench, Komen sacrificed some creativity in the final third to control the middle, not to mention Dembele’s threat behind.
Certainly for the best part of an hour Sevilla struggled to escape Barcelona’s press or set up any sustained pressure, even as Julan Lopetegui offered three options at half-time to face his opponents Formation stopped.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was fit to play by the team doctor despite injuring his right thumb in the warm-up and was actually difficult to test in the first half.
Barca controlled the game, and while Elba and Dest never really advanced as much as Coman would have liked, Frankie de Jong and Pedri were a constant threat in the middle, increasingly in front of Dimbele.
Chance, however, was few and far between and it retaliated Barcelona to take the lead.
Fernando drove the ball cheaply and two passes were enough, Messi scoring a decisive goal through Dembele to clear and finish.
Lopagetegui reacted with three changes at half-time and two more after the hour but even matching Barcelona’s system, Sevilla struggled to gain a foothold.
Alba comes just above De Jong’s cross, slams against Dest Post and Messi explodes after another bounce from Dembélé.
Yusuf An-Nesiri, a substitute for Lopetegui, had Sevilla’s best chance but moved on.
Yet without a second goal, the possibility of a nervous finale was always present and En-Nesri got the corner on the turn, but the goal was dismissed for handball, with Aruso showing his tusk to Barca’s defender. And they moved some chairs in desperation.
But Sevilla’s push was brief, ending with six minutes left by Messi.
He traded passes with Dimbell, nipped inside Diego Carlos and tried to finish with a chip. Bono made the save but the ball came to Messi, one yard out.
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