Barcelona are still unbeaten. No one at the Sanchez Pizjuan was quite sure how but it definitely had something to do with Lionel Messi.
He was watching on the bench for the first hour – yawning occasionally as Barcelona fell two goals behind against Sevilla.
But he climbed off the bench with just under half and hour remaining and after Luis Suarez had flung himself at a loose ball two minutes from time to make it 2-1, Messi waved that magic wand left foot to level on 89 minutes.
Lionel Messi came off the bench to rescue Barcelona at Sevilla with a stoppage-time equaliser on Saturday night
Messi was introduced as a second-half substitute for Barcelona with his teammates trailing by two goals
Franco Vazquez scored Sevilla’s first goal which set his teammates on their way to a two-goal lead
Vazquez opened the scoring for Sevilla as he places the ball past Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen
The Argentine forward wheels away in celebration after helping the home side to a shock lead over the La Liga leaders
Jesus Navas celebrates with Luis Muriel after the latter doubled Sevilla’s dominance over Barcelona
Barcelona were groggy for long periods but the Champion-in-waiting is still undefeated.
If Atletico Madrid beat Deportivo on Sunday then they will be nine points behind Barcelona with eight games left. The league is still very much on its way to the Camp Nou and after this late-late show Ernesto Valverde’s side could still finish the season without losing.
For long spells of this game the players that the Barca coach has most relied on all season – Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Ivan Rakitic and Suarez looked jaded. And those with the fewer miles on the clock – Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho – had not stepped-up to save their tired team-mates.
But the savior turned up just in time and with Messi’s late goal it was another point towards the title.
‘They were better than us but we showed a lot of pride,’ said Suarez on the final whistle.
The home side took the lead on 37 minutes. Jesus Navas started the move with a strong run down the right before sending a pass to Correa on the opposite wing. He was allowed plenty of time to swap passes with Sergio Escudero and roll a gentle cross into the six-yard box where the unmarked Franco Vaquez couldn’t believe the time afforded him by Pique and Umtiti. He steered his shot past Marc Andre ter Stegen and Sevilla were ahead.
It was more than they deserved after weathering the early storm from the league leaders. Suarez sent a shot just wide and Andres Iniesta blasted over after being gifted possession by a sloppy pass out from Sevilla keeper Sergio Rico. Coutinho then shot straight at Rico as the visitors continued to hold the upper hand. But with Messi now yawning on the Barca bench they were missing their chances and allowing Sevilla into the game.
MATCH FACTS AND LA LIGA TABLE
Sevilla (4-2-3-1): Rico; Mercado (Layun 45), Kjaer, Lenglet, Escudero; N’Zonzi, Banega; Navas (Nolito 80), Vazquez, Correa (Pizarro 71); Muriel
Subs not used: Carrico, Lopes, Ben Yedder, Soria
Goals: Vazquez 36; Muriel 50
Booked: Mercado, Rico
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Paulinho, Rakitic, Iniesta; Dembele (Messi 57), Suarez, Coutinho
Subs not used: Semedo, D Suarez, Cillessen, Alcacer, Gomes, Vermaelen
Goals: Suarez 88; Messi 89
Lionel Messi watches on from the substitutes bench with Barcelona looking ahead to a Champions League quarter-final
Samuel Umtiti is denied by Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico as he closes the defender down by spreading his body out
Sevilla should have gone ahead when Joaquin Correa found space in the area and connected with a Navas cross but he headed down and wide.
Barcelona were without Sergio Busquets in central midfield and his replacements Rakitic was deputizing having travelled to Miami and Mexico with Croatia during the international break. They were susceptible to the counter attack and it showed when they went behind eight minutes before the break.
They doubled their lead five minutes into the second half. Barcelona were asleep in their own penalty area again. Sevilla attacked down their right and when Pique failed to clear, the ball came out to Escudero.
His shot bounced off of Ter Stegen’s chest and ran straight to Luis Muriel who drilled his shot goalwards. It took a slight deflection off Umtiti’s toe before nestling in the corner.
Valverde’s dilemma now was whether or not to bring on Messi. On 57 minutes, and after Navas had gone close to making it 3-0 only for Pique to clear off the line, Barcelona’s number 10 made his entrance replacing Ousmane Dembele.
He immediately got Barça playing. He sent Jordi Alba down the left and when his cross ran to the back post Suarez thumped it into the post – the 40th time this season Barcelona have hit the frame of the goal.
With Barcelona still missing Busquets, Nzonzi for Sevilla was getting stronger with every passing minute. He cut out one pass from Suarez and sprinted to the edge of the Barcelona penalty area only to then not receive the final pass.
Messi’s initial impact seemed to have faded and Sevilla were closer to adding to their lead than conceding.
But three days before facing Roma in the Champions League Barcelona found something extra in the last two minutes. Suarez threw his body at a loose ball in the six-yard box to make it 2-1 and Messi did the rest from Coutinho’s pass.
The Argentine leaves the bench as the Barcelona coaching staff look to recover what they can from the game
Messi (right) is introduced into the game with half an hour to turn the match around as he replaces Ousmane Dembele