Lionel Messi, with his 500th Barcelona goal, and Luis Suarez saved the Spanish champions from a second defeat in six days as they came from behind to win 2-1 at Sevilla on Sunday. Victory keeps Barca just two points adrift of Real Madrid, who were 3-0 victors over Leganes thanks to a double from Gareth Bale. Messi inspired a spirited Barca fightback fresh from a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday after a first-half dominated by Sevilla.
“There is no one like him and our objective as a team is to look for Leo as much as possible,” Barca boss Luis Enrique said. “The capacity Messi has to play in any position and interpret what is happening on the field is laudable.”
With the cast of the Game of Thrones among those watching on in Seville, the game got off to a frantic start. The hosts had two shots on goal inside 50 seconds, but from a Sevilla corner Barca broke forward at lightning speed and Suarez’s effort from Neymar’s layoff was brilliantly saved by Sergio Rico.
Sevilla remained on the front foot for most of the first-half and got their reward on 15 minutes when Pablo Sarabia’s pass bamboozled Sergi Roberto and Vitolo charged through to open the scoring.
Sarabia passed up a great chance to make it two when he took the bizarre decision to backheel the ball towards the edge of the area when he had just Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat.
Barca made Sevilla pay with another brilliant counter-attack to level two minutes before half-time as this time Messi curled Neymar’s pass into the bottom corner.
The goal was Messi’s 500th for Barca including friendlies, but he should have had more after the break as only a brilliant block from Mariano and save from Rico prevented the Barca captain turning the game around.
Messi turned provider for the winner just after the hour mark as he teed up Suarez to drill the ball low past Rico.
Rico produced an incredible stop to prevent Suarez making it 3-1, but a huge error from Ter Stegen at the other end nearly cost Barca the win as he flapped at a corner and Steven N’Zonzi headed inches wide the goal gaping.
The day before his side hosted Barcelona, Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli joked that Lionel Messi’s supremacy necessitated two Ballon d’Or competitions, “one for Messi and one for everyone else”.
The Argentine’s words rang true on Sunday. “When a player like him takes a game seriously it’s very difficult for his opponents,” said Sampaoli, whose side’s perfect home record in La Liga and the Champions League was broken.
“Messi is a world class player and when the game opens up there’s little you can do to stop him, nor his team mates because they can really punish you if you give them any space.”
Sevilla president Pepe Castro lamented his side’s inability to finish Barcelona off but was also in thrall to Messi.
“We couldn’t take our chances in the first half. They have Messi, we do not,” he said. “He is an extraterrestrial. The first time he touches the ball, it’s a goal.”
Messi starring role
for Game of Thrones
Stars of Emmy-winning television epic Game of Thrones got a front row seat at the Lionel Messi show on Sunday. Stars of the fantasy show, Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage donned Sevilla scarves as they watched the action unfold from the VIP area.
In July, HBO announced that for the seventh season, a number of Spanish cities and landscapes would be used.
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