Sevilla 2-3 Barcelona: Barca on the brink

May 9, 2010

Pep Guardiola’s side are almost there: a win at home to Valladolid next Sunday will secure their second consecutive La Liga title. This game ended up closer than it should have been, after Barca went 3-0 up, and Sevilla had a man sent-off. Nevertheless, the three points are in the bag.

Barca continued with the Pedro-Messi-Bojan front three that served them so well recently against Villareal and Tenerife, with Messi operating in a false nine role.

Sevilla, one of only four sides to defeat Barcelona this season, modified their usual 4-4-2 shape to go 4-4-1-1, with Frederic Kanoute dropping well behind Luis Fabiano and trying to close down Sergio Busquets.

Barcelona were rampant in the first half, playing amongst the best football they’ve played all season, and dominating both in terms of possession and territory. Sevilla’s two banks of four were simply unable to cope with the movement of Barca’s front three, with Messi floating around as he liked, and the two wide players making out-to-in runs between centre-back and full-back.

Barcelona were working the ball excellently around the Sevilla wide players, with the Maxwell-Keita-Bojan and Alves-Xavi-Pedro triangles combining well. Xavi and Keita have the license to move towards the ball when it is in wide areas, knowing that they won’t be leaving a shortfall in midfield, enabling Barcelona to keep the ball at will.

Both Barcelona full-backs got well forward early on - Alves in particular in a storming first half for him, but Maxwell was the one who created Messi’s opener with a chip over the top. The advance of the full-backs was pushing both Jesus Navas and Diego Capal into their own third and making it hard for Sevilla to break, and the distance between the Sevilla midfield and attack throughout the game didn’t lend itself to good link-up play.

The ball over the top of the Sevilla defence for the three onrushing forwards was a tactic throughout, but it was not a high line that was Sevilla’s problem – they defended relatively deep – but the fact that there was rarely any pressure on the Barcelona midfielders in possession, meaning they were able to pick out precise passes through the defence easily. Bojan and Pedro stayed wide until the last moment, when they darted infield to get a head start over the Sevilla centre-backs, whilst Maxwell and Alves exploited the space created, to leave Xavi and Busquets with a plethora of options when in the final third. Xavi played a through ball to Bojan for the second goal.

Abdoulay Konko’s red card on 57 minutes, and Pedro’s blast from the edge of the area to make it 0-3 should have finished the game, but Barcelona switched off and allowed ten-man Sevilla back in. First Kanoute and then Fabiano found a huge amount of space in the right-hand channel and produced cool finishes to make it 2-3, and suddenly Barcelona were under a huge amount of pressure, particularly from substitute Marius Stanevicius’ Delap-esque throws into the box.

It’s difficult to ascertain what changed after Pedro’s third goal to make Barcelona so sloppy. Admittedly Fabiano was dropping deeper to compensate for the shortfall in midfield, and this helped Sevilla’s link-up play. It’s more likely, however, that it was simply a case of Barcelona switching off at 0-3, and their second-half display looked tired.

It’s an interesting feature of Barcelona’s season that their two best first-half displays (when the quality of the opposition is taken into account) – away against Arsenal and tonight against Sevilla – have been followed by second-half collapses. At the Emirates they ended up at 2-2 having thrashed Arsenal for the majority of the match, whilst tonight they nearly blew a 0-3 lead despite a man advantage. Being such a professional club, it’s hard to imagine that pure complacency is the reason, but it might point to the fact that you can’t press and run so intensively for 90 minutes.

The entire squad are incredible athletes, but naturally tire both over the course of a game and over the course of a season. Barcelona actually have a relatively shallow squad considering what an incredible side they are, and whilst Guardiola has attempted to rotate the side, it might not be enough to prevent fatigue.

Barring an unlikely result next weekend though, it won’t be crucial – Barcelona pretty much won the league tonight.

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