La Liga Review: Sevilla FC 2, FC Barcelona 3, Or, Cesc Steals The SpotlightBy: Ade C. | September 30th, 2012
Just got off the phone to my insurance agent, who was telling me that being a Barça fan might from now on be considered as a pre-existing condition. I really couldn’t find anything to say to that, not when I still have palpitations from last night…
Visits to the Sánchez Pizjuan are always difficult. Even if Sevilla’s anthem doesn’t impress you (and it should!), the constant noise and pressure of the crowd are like a twelfth player on the home side, and a particularly persistent and annoying one at that.
For this match, Tito chose the following starting XI: VV, Alves, Song, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Alexis and Messi. Persisting with the Song-Masche partnership at CB instead of, at some point, giving Bartra or Fontàs a chance is not something with which I’m particularly pleased, but I’m going to be patient and assume that Tito knows something I don’t.
The pitch of the Sánchez Pizjuan, slicked by a light pre-match rain, was dizzyingly fast. It felt like watching a pinball machine at times, the ball pinging players here and there as it resisted all efforts to take it past the midfield. Since Sevilla was the team least concerned with making their approach to goal follow the strict rules of tiki-taka, they had a couple of real chances, while the Barça players indulged in one pass too many, a cross instead of a shot on goal, in the manner to which we are accustomed. The whole shyness in front of goal thing continues to be troubling, though I don’t subscribe to the theory that Barça players don’t shoot because they’re afraid Messi will shout at them if they do.
It was annoying, but not particularly surprising, when Sevilla struck first, Trochowski scoring after the ball bounced off Mascherano and Dani Alves just stood there, watching him shoot and not bothering to get involved in the proceedings at all.
Well. An early goal isn’t desirable, but it isn’t a tragedy either. It’s what happens when you have a defence made up of people who aren’t particularly good at defending. Song was nowhere near as awful as we expected him to be, but it’s a well-known fact that the centre-back who plays besides Dani Alves has to defend for two, and Song was too busy drifting upfield and trying to become a midfielder again to defend for himself, let alone cover the gap that Dani left in his wake.
So, not good, but not terribly bad either… except that Sevilla continued to press, Barça continued to fail to do anything about it, and by half-time, it was all Sevilla and very little Barça.
For all that Bartra was running around warming up during half-time, Tito started the second half without making changes. So, obviously, Negredo scored within minutes after an uncharacteristic Busquets giveaway and a display of what-do-I-do-now by the Barça defence (Song’s timid little shove at Negredo is particularly frustrating).
2-0. The only good news is that we were well on our way to making Kage’s predictions a reality.
And then Cesc cast off the invisibility cloak he’d been wearing all match, put on his Arsenal do-I-have-to-do-everything-around-here face, and finally shot on the godsdamned goal.
Shooting on goal produces goals! Who knew? Would this startling discovery change the way Barça were taking the match?
Yes, it did. Alexis shot, and went inches wide. Messi took a gorgeous free-kick that Palop somehow managed to tip over the crossbar. Barça set camp in Sevilla’s half and began trying Palop’s luck. There was still too much crossing and not enough shooting, but at least Sevilla weren’t being given as many chances to test our ‘defence’ as in the first half.
The first sub came on the 69th minute, when Tito brought in Tello for an Alexis who had been combative, but not particularly influential.
And then Pitbull Medel got himself sent off. Well… Cesc got him sent off, rather. Watch for yourselves and tell me if you’ve not seen week-old kittens give better headbutts.
Obviously what Medel didn’t wasn’t kosher. But Cesc didn’t have to react as if he’d been poked in the eye; Barça players already have a reputation (somewhat deserved, even, in some cases) and things like this don’t help with that at all. And the ref, who’d done so little during the first half that we’d began to worry he was a Barça defender, jumped at the chance to fill his card quota for the day.
Sevilla were down to ten men and #Villarato was gearing itself to start trending on Twitter. Tito decided that it was time to bring on the big guns and he subbed in Thiago for Busquets; and we love Thiago, but he is no defensive midfielder, so the ragtag group of players out of position that made up the Barça defence was more exposed than ever.
But no worries! If the defence is wobbly, then take off a defender… wait, what? Villa came in for Dani Alves, leaving Barça playing with four forwards, three ‘defenders’ (Song, Masche and Alba) and no defensive midfielder.
There were ten minutes left of the match. I was torn between the desire to see Barça score and salvage a point, and the knowledge that Barça weren’t exactly deserving a win.
So, with two minutes left of regulation time left, Cesc again stole the spotlight, scoring after a nice bit of build-up by Messi, Xavi and Thiago.
Good things happen to those who shoot!
Barça had secured a point out of what seemed like a lost cause, but there were still five minutes of injury time to go through. And in those five minutes, David Villa managed once again to remind us how much we’d missed him, scoring a beauty on the 92nd minute to give Barça the match, the three points, and the victorious 6-match start to La Liga.
Better than the goal was the puppy pile that formed to celebrate it, or the sight of Jordi Alba clinging to Tito like a squirrel to a particularly serious tree.
It wasn’t a good match, for all Barça won and got the three point, and Sevilla deserved so much better (and this is from someone who dislikes the team, the players and everything about the way they play). And I’ll be honest, I’d be more comfortable with the team’s luck if Cesc hadn’t helped along Medel’s sending off the way he did.
But what’s done is done. We start this very exciting and stressful week with a win, and that can’t be a bad thing.
Now, it’s time for player ratings!
VV: 7,5. He can’t be blamed exclusively for any of the two Sevilla goals, and he had some good saves, but maybe he could’ve done a little more?
Dani Alves: 5,5. His defending was terrible, exposing Song when he should have been helping him along, and he was unnecessarily florid in the attack; it was a good thing Tito subbed him out.
Song: 6. Yes, I have a list of players I’d prefer to see as CBs over Alex longer than my arm, but he didn’t do too badly considering he’s playing out of position in a still-unfamiliar team. Remember Masche’s first matches as CB and don’t be too harsh.
Masche: 7,5. He did what he could, but he seems… exhausted? Semi-injured? Anyway, not at his best.
Alba: 7,5. Kid did reasonably well, particularly against Navas, but he wasn’t too influential.
Busquets: 7,5. Apart from the giveaway that led to Sevilla’s second goal (and that is a big con), he did quite well.
Xavi: 7. I hesitate to say Xavi played badly, because I don’t think he’s physically capable of it, but he wasn’t too good either.
Cesc: 6,5. MotM (for good and ill) Here we go. He gets points for the goals, but then gets all those points taken off for acting like a twat in the Medel situation. If he wants to get some good-will in this blog, he needs to be better than that!
Alexis: 6. He had some good runs, a shot or two… but he should have done more.
Messi: 6. Invisible during most of the match, he livened up at the end… but still.
Pedrito: 7,5. He couldn’t do much on the attack, considering no one was doing anything, but he instead turned his energy to try and make up for Dani Alves’ absence, isn’t that lovely?
Tello (in for Alexis): 7. Good, but not groundbreaking.
Thiago (in for Busquets): He got injured shortly before the match ended; tests today revealed that he tore a ligament in his right knee (NOT his ACL, thank goodness for small favours) and will be out for around two months. This is our face right now: :’(
Villa (in for Dani Alves): 8. It’s fantastic to see El Guaje return like this; we’d missed his goals, and his way of facing the goal, and how he takes advantage of the space other players open for him.
Ah, remember when Barça won matches with lovely scorelines like 5-0 or 1-4, and the only stress we suffered was that the goals came too close to each other to celebrate them properly? I miss those days. Also, the days when every match wasn’t just the prelude to find out what player got injured this time.
But we’ll take them as they come. Now, chin up and get ready for this verrrrry exciting week, which includes a trip to Portugal and a(nother) Clásico! Watch this space for match previews and reviews, and follow us on Twitter to get the news as they happen.