Xaviesta combine to play Bojan in on the left of the area, but he goes down as Navas fouls him. Under little pressure, Fazio hoofs the ball straight to Alves and Barcelona come again. Adriano played a lazy pass to Busquets, who was immediately manhandled by Capel, snapping away at his heels. What an important save.
76 min: Barcelona make their second change, Maxwell replacing Adriano.
77 min: It was actually a pretty bad miss from Navas, who was right in front of goal and placed his shot far too close to Valdes. Negredo kept his head though from the byline, he dinked the ball back into the six-yard box, where the unmarked Navas arrived to place a clever header past Abidal on the line.
51 min: Suddenly Sevilla are all over Barcelona and when Capel’s cross from the right is headed up into the air, Negredo launches into an acrobatic overhead kick which flies wide.
53 min: What a miss by Negredo! Sometimes Barcelona do fail to realise the danger of stroking it around at the back if teams do decide to close them down. The ball loops up towards the line but Medel hooks clear and as Messi tries to head into the empty net, Javi Varas recovers to catch it. Messi was the one who took it and he got it up and over the wall, and the bewitching curl was enough to beat Javi Varas at his near post, but the referee had blown for pushing by Busquets in the wall.
10 min: That is a poor decision from the referee. Messi turns on the edge of the area and immediately you sense danger. He comes again though and tries to dink a pass through to Iniesta, the ball stopped by Fazio’s hand.
8 min: Messi scores a fabulous free-kick – but it’s disallowed for the most bizarre of reasons! Xavi, Villa and Messi were standing over the ball, which was around 22 yards from goal, just to the left of the D. Interesting. Here are tonight’s teams.
Sevilla (4-5-1): Javi Varas; Cceres, Fazio, Alexis, Navarro; Medel, Zokora, Rakitic, Navas, Capel; Negredo. He seems impossible to beat. “Pray tell, just how does one do that? Is it simply not possible? Or is it that no one has a team who are drilled and talented enough in that specific aspect of play?” Well, Mourinho’s Inter did it last season but they had their fair share of luck at times. Easy.
58 min: Kanoute has made a telling impact for Sevilla and here he plucks the ball out of the sky on the left, before sliding a canny pass inside for Rakitic. He’s booked, and it could get worse for Sevilla. It’s only March (although Manuel Pellegrini made a better fist of it last season). He was holding his stomach as he went off. Barcelona drop two points, but at least move five points clear of Real Madrid. Messi turns beautifully 20 yards from goal and speeds into the area, but instead of shooting he checks back and touches the ball inside to Bojan. and The X Files. Can’t everyone just be friends?
63 min: This is an ugly little spell. The pressure is extraordinary in Spain. It was a clean challenge by Varas but Messi’s shin collided with the goalkeeper’s right knee.
Peep! Peep! The half-time whistle blows but Messi is still getting treatment in Sevilla’s area. It looked like he was going to score, but he was forced wide by Alves. He always get a foot in to nick the ball.
69 min: Oh me, oh my, what a run from a supposedly injured Messi! He picks the ball up 30 yards from goal, nutmegs Fazio, skips past the lunge by Navarro and is then denied by the outstretched right leg of Javi Varas as he looks to dink the ball over him. There’s not a lot he can do, however, with this kind of service.
25 min: Negredo was refused a free-kick a moment before after being bumped by Pique, but now he’s got one as Adriano nudges him on the right. Instantly he spotted a gaping hole in the Barcelona defence and played a first-time pass through to Negredo. For the first time in the match, Sevilla put together some one-touch football in midfield and Rakitic’s subtle backheel to Kanoute suddenly created space for the striker. The Messi scare has rocked them and, in turn, given Sevilla a new lease of life.
57 min: Bojan drops the shoulder and cuts in from the left but his low skimmer is weak and straight at Javi Varas. He takes a bit too long to decide what to do though, and Fazio gets it behind for a corner.
19 min: From Barcelona’s corner, Sevilla break after Messi gives the ball away but he races back into the left-back position to pinch it back off Capel. It’s always like the pitch is slanted towards the goal of Barcelona’s opposition.
13 min: Bojan is going to come on for Barcelona, but I’m not sure who will go off.
14 min: It’s Pedro. He scoots clear of the Barcelona defence and then slides the ball across the area and to Navas, whose low drive from 12 yards out is blocked by Valdes. Villa squeezes a pass out to Messi on the left side of the area, and Messi dinks a lovely cross into the centre for Villa, who is denied a certain goal by Javi Varas who flies out of his goal and punches away. It’s feisty.
62 min: Now Xavi and Medel are booked after an unseemly little spat following a foul by the Chilean. He should have at least hit the target.
80 min: Barcelona should have had this match wrapped up at half time and they could end up losing this. He’s unable to turn, so finds Xavi on the edge of the area. He could shoot, but opts for one more pass and eventually Villa gets crowded out effectively by Sevilla, Barcelona getting too bogged down.
22 min: At the moment, it’s a struggle for Sevilla to get more than 30 yards away from their own goal when they do get the ball and they’re often being restricted to hitting hopeful long balls to Negredo, who is so far being dominated by Pique and Abidal. Messi takes it and the wall completely evaporates, allowing Messi’s low free-kick through and forcing Javi Varas to fly to his left and push it aside.
45 min: In the context of this game, that is a superb chance for Sevilla. “By that I mean players you love when they are on your team but hate when they are on the opposition. Barcelona attack and Villa finds Messi on the edge of the area, but his pass through to Pedro fails to find its target. Tempers are frayed. Hmmm. Just shoot!
66 min: Messi. Subs: Dani Jimnez, Romaric, Dabo, Renato, Perotti, Rodri, Kanout
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valds; Alves, Piqu, Abidal, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa. The save was still good, mind you.
78 min: Perotti is causing Barcelona all sorts of trouble down the right and he threatens them again here, running on to a sublime reverse pass from Navarro. Actually, make that in the history of sport.
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as a sure thing not working out. Alves took the ball down beautifully and then as Javi Varas came out to challenge him, he just simply rolled a pass five yards to his left for Bojan, who could hardly miss. Busquets wasn’t doing much that any Sevilla player wasn’t.
11 min: A lively start, this one. Sure enough as he spins he reverses the ball through to Bojan, but Barcelona are denied by Javi Varas who charges off his line to hack clear.
16 min: Xavi turns on a sixpence – he’s just got so much time – and spots the run of Alves through the middle, but the full-back is just offside. He can mimic both Xavi and Messi when he fancies it; this was the latter. He had to have seven stitches in his head after a clash last week.
Regular watchers of La Liga will empathise with my disappointment. In the end, either side could have won it, although Barcelona had more chances. We are privileged to see 3 of the all time greats in one team, especially a team that gives so much in order to let them shine. Barcelona should probably score four or five here. Sevilla get us going again and immediately give the ball to Barcelona. Negredo is wearing a protective helmet on his head, the sort you might see on a rugby player. Instead, what we’ve got, is a team of tiki-taka terrors racing off into the distance, with Real Madrid hopelessly wave goodbye. Week. Win tonight and Barcelona are seven points clear at the top, although really that’s effectively eight points due to their superior head-to-head record over Real.. Every. Again Perotti’s delivery is spot on, sent to Kanoute 12 yards from goal, but the Malian gets his timing all wrong and screws a dismal half-volley wide of the far post. Plus, they generally take their chances quite well in contrast to some other counter-attacking teams.”
12 min: Never underestimate the pressing this side gets through. Sevilla’s defending has been heroic at times.
85 min: Barcelona make their final change, Seydou Keita on for the mostly disappointing David Villa.
86 min: For the second time in the match, Barcelona hit the bar! The pressure is relentless now and Iniesta finds room 30 yards from goal and smacks a superb, swerving drive that moved all over the place in the air and cracked against the bar. Javi Varas didn’t move an inch. Single. Dani Alves would be a shoo-in for the team, as would Ronaldo for most people (myself not included). It’s only really worth watching because they sometimes play Frank Sinatra tunes over the painfully moral dialogue. If Sevilla’s plan is reliant on poor touches from Messi in front of goal, I suggest they find another one.
35 min: Messi should play Iniesta through on goal here, but his pass is too casual and allows Caceres to stick out a foot and cut it out. That sums it all up really.
20 min: Alves is forcing the excellent Navas to play as a left-back.
21 min: At times, Barcelona are overplaying. What a let-off that was.
83 min: Messi shoots from the edge of the area, Fazio throws himself in the way of the drive. Barcelona might just have got away with it.
28 min: And now Zokora’s frustration gets the better of him as he catches Busquets with raised studs. That was a difficult skill, to be fair, as he had to swivel and volley all in one movement.
72 min: Sevilla make another change, Diego Capel replaced by Perotti.
73 min: This is a clear penalty for Barcelona. Unusually slack from Messi there.
5 min: “If Villarreal in fourth place are 19 points behind the leaders, are they also fighting a battle to avoid relegation?” asks Ian Copestake. They’ve got Treme, which is more Tre-meh, if we’re being cruel. That was a pulsating match. “In your interesting introduction I think you meant to put football first then sport second in your conclusion,” says Jordan Hackney. Messi slides into the six-yard box and only needs to make proper contact with the cross to poke it in but it’s just in front of him and he can only get the slightest of touches on it and the ball goes out for a goal-kick. Hip hip! I was getting a little bit emotional. Blue Bloods, with Tom Selleck’s moustache, is all right, if you can stand the sanctimony. And then people started watching what was on offer. They’re overplaying a little. Jose Mourinho versus Pep Guardiola, Xabi Alonso versus Xavi Hernandez, Mesut Ozil versus Andres Iniesta, Angel Di Maria versus Pedro, Gonzalo Higuain versus David Villa, Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi and Real Madrid versus Barcelona. Freddie Kanoute is on for Didier Zokora by the way. That’s what they can do to you.
33 min: Sevilla nearly get caught again and it should be 2-0. Gangsters have already been done, and although the plight of women in the 20th century is also covered, Mad Men also does that with a lighter touch. Xavi, again, was granted too much time to pick out a marvellous run through the middle from Messi and the little man looped a header over Javi Varas, only for the ball to smack against the face of the bar and away from danger.
44 min: A fine one-two from Messi and Bojan ends when Navarro clatters into the latter just outside the D. Sevilla have been playing a dangerous game with their high defensive line and Barcelona have come close to piercing it on several occasions. Good night.
Mourinho, the scourge of Barcelona with Inter last season, was supposed to bring the title to the capital; instead he’s left warning his side that they cannot afford another slip-up all season. “That said, if we are thinking of teams that have the best chance to beat Barca, I’d have to think it is a healthy Manchester United. Whistles float around the Sanchez Pizjuan, as Barcelona stroke the thing around. Adriano. Overall, just terrific entertainment. Thanks for all your emails and thanks for reading. It would be a surprise to see him back for the second half, but for a moment it looked like he had suffered a serious injury and no one would want to see that. Moments later, Capel is booked for a tug and kick at Iniesta.
70 min: Messi lifts the ball over the statuesque Sevilla defence again and Xavi takes the ball down on his chest before screwing a weak volley straight at Javi Varas from the edge of the area. He’s booked.
29 min: Adriano scoots on to Iniesta’s pass inside Medel, but the flag is up again.
GOAL! Sevilla 0-1 Barcelona (Bojan, 30 min): After the intense early pressure from Barcelona, Pedro’s injury had slightly robbed them of their fluency and they were looking a little ragged, but this goal has been coming all the same. Additionally, on defence, they are vastly superior than Arsenal when healthy and even without Rio, Smalling has shown that he is an excellent replacement. He’s a terrific young talent.
38 min: Navas and Capel are two menacing wingers and both could cause Barcelona trouble. Sevilla have got a foot in here or there – three times – but it’s fair to say the pattern of this game is already set.
3 min: “So, with my e-mail from the last match we concluded that those teams (City, Reading) could not break up the Barcelona pass-pass-pass routine,” says Paul Taylor. Bojan looks pleadingly at the referee but a goal-kick is given. They’re fourth, a mere 19 points behind Real Madrid.
An email. But you said I’m interesting, so all’s well. You might want to look into that.
Roberto Martinez is the pundit and says Barcelona would be shocked by the physicality in England. They’re 23 points behind Barcelona.
7 min: Iniesta’s precise pass nearly – nearly – squeezes through to Villa but Sevilla close the gap. It should have been dealt with by Adriano but he goofed, missing his header, only for Capel’s touch to betray him.
45 min+1: This is worrying. Xavi. He makes good contact but the ball falls to Medel 40 yards out, but his adventurous volley was troubling on one.
42 min: Messi hits the bar! It was that ball over the top which caught out Sevilla again. Barcelona should have been out of sight by half time, but seemed unnerved by the knock Messi took, and Sevilla came roaring back in the second half. Some players transcend petty club rivalries.
Half time: Sevilla 0-1 Barcelona.
Well, Barcelona lead, but Pedro has gone off injured and we might not see Leo Messi again this evening. Navarro has just been booked for a nasty tackle on Busquets.
65 min: On the edge of the area, Messi shapes to shoot with his left but instead backheels to Iniesta, who’s tackled by Medel. It’s bittersweet.
From Spain, there are reports that Messi stayed down because he was feeling dizzy. Boardwalk Empire has had its moments so far, and is certainly enjoyable, but it’s not a patch on The Sopranos – which airs just before it on a Wednesday evening – or The Wire. It would have been, but Sevilla were let off by an unusually poor touch from Messi, who was unable to control another wonderful, raking pass from Xavi. This isn’t to say that I would favor United against Barca or that they would win any more than 3 or 4 out of 10 against them. “I thought I’d let you know in case it was a mistake. Sevilla will have to get the ball first.
39 min: A mesmeric run from Iniesta and a waste from Villa. Other suggestions included Pepe, Sergio Ramos, John Terry, Nigel De Jong (although I don’t really know how much you truly love him on your team, more like you begrudgingly support him), and Van Bommell. Now they have. Ah, no, you’ve missed out a key ‘the’ in the penultimate sentence. There was no pressure on Iniesta, who was able to look up and curl a glorious pass over the defence and through to Alves, who was being played onside by the slack-jawed Fazio. Again he skips past a succession of desperate challenges, before wriggling into the area and unleashing a left-footed shot which is blocked by a Sevilla foot in front of the diving Javi Varas. It won’t last forever and we’ll miss them when they’re gone.”
47 min: Alexis clatters into the back of Messi, a snide little trick.
47 min (part two): Capel cuts in from the right and crosses towards Negredo at the far post. This is one of the tougher games they’ve got left, but given the lesson Barcelona handed Arsenal during the week, it might be a case of damage limitation for Sevilla. The free-kick is hit high into the area and tempts Valdes to come and punch it. With Sevilla’s defence on the verge of crumbling under the strain of the Barcelona pressure, the ball comes out to Iniesta who takes a touch and smacks a low drive goalwards from 12 yards out, only to see his shot cleared off the line by Medel! It’s just been wave after wave of attacks from Barcelona these last ten minutes.
90 min+3: Iniesta sends the ball into the area but Javi Varas claims it.
Peep! Peep! Peep! The full-time whistle blows. Messi flies over the goalkeeper and then stays down. That looked fortunate.
26 min: Having seen it again, Alves held on to Zokora’s shirt for a second but that wasn’t what caused the Ivorian to fall, it was more a clip of the ankles that was the offence. Navas finally broke free of the shackles thrown over him by Alves and clipped the ball across the area. This is potentially disastrous for Barcelona.
Relief! Messi is up and walking again, although a tad gingerly. He’s well placed to judge that. He is in some considerable pain and is not getting up. He even gets a free-kick out of it as Villa’s studs were up, but that’s encouraging for Barcelona and a reminder for Sevilla.
61 min: Navarra goes steaming into Pique. That was so close.
18 min: Busquets gets a slightly lucky break in the middle of the pitch, a ricochet falling his way and allowing him to poke a deft ball through to Adriano. As for the rest, everyone’s either seen The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm or has it on DVD and other than that, the schedule appears to be filled out by repeats of E.R. Much like he did for the second goal against Arsenal, he suddenly went past a couple of Sevilla players as if they weren’t there, gliding ominously towards the area. Busquets went to ground but no free kick was given, and the ball ran to Negredo, who strode forward and then, with a clear sight of goal, lifted an utterly dreadful effort over Valdes and over the bar.
54 min: Just before that chance, Sevilla claimed for a penalty when Capel went down after a coming together with Adriano, but that would have been very soft.
56 min: Barcelona can’t cope with the intensity of Sevilla’s pressing at the moment. This was meant to be the title race to end all other title races, the most frenetic, unyielding and engrossing of all time. Nineteen points behind the team in second place. Medel comes inside from the right flank and lays the ball off to Rakitic, who slashes a poor shot well over the bar from 25 yards out. Interesting comparison with sky Atlantic, I was pissed off to find I couldn’t watch it as a non HD customer, never mind.” I don’t have HD and can watch it. Subs: Pinto, Maxwell, Milito, Mascherano, Keita, Afellay, Bojan.
In the 6pm game, Villarreal have drawn 1-1 with Sporting Gijon at home, conceding a 93rd minute penalty. With Villa to his right, he played a perfect pass to the striker but from an angle he blazed his shot miles off target.
41 min: Adriano chops down Navas and is booked for it. “I agree with your sentiments regarding Iniesta,” says Niall Mullen. It’s not working between us, no matter how many smug adverts are shown with Dustin Hoffman gazing out at the New York skyline. He could shoot, but decides to seek out Capel on the right – unfortunately he hadn’t read his intentions and had made a darting run inside Adriano, meaning he wasn’t there when the ball was played.
59 min: After a rocky few minutes, Barcelona come back into it and nearly regain their lead. He could be back then. Villa slides a pass through to Messi, who is beaten to it by the sliding Javi Varas. He didn’t say Stoke would beat them though.
1 min: We’re off, Barcelona kicking off, and attacking from right to left. Thoughts?” Speaking from experience, Craig Bellamy.
37 min: It’s good to see Bojan get a goal. It looked like he pulled something and Bojan slots into the attack.
15 min: This dictum applies to most teams who play Barcelona, but Sevilla need to hold the ball better when they do get it. Sevilla are probably happy with the point now.
89 min: Xavi curls a free-kick into the Sevilla area from the left but the referee spots some offence by Pique and blows his whistle.
90 min+3: How? This is simply magical from Messi, who has done everything but score tonight. It must be difficult for him, such are the lack of opportunities at Barcelona, and he’s certainly had his critics over the past few weeks, so hopefully this will give him a bit more confidence. Still, they seem best placed to beat Barcelona given how well drilled they are at lying back and giving teams tons of space while not allowing them to breach their box in any meaningful way and then hitting back ruthlessly on the counter. This has been a marvellous game.
88 min: Negredo is withdrawn for the more defensive Romaric. They are at least as good on the counter as Arsenal, probably much better (think of the lightning counters they put together against Arsenal last year and the year before that in the CL semi-final). Sid Lowe says draws are the new defeats and with good reason, because Barcelona win every week. Last month, Sky Atlantic – a channel based on Sky paying millions for someone else’s product because their own output consists of A League Of Their Own, Are You Smarter Than A 10-Year-Old and Noel’s HQ – launched to much fanfare. Barcelona are all over the place as the ball is swung in dangerously from the right, and Zokora hurls himself at it but makes no contact as he collapses to the floor in a heap. People quibble about La Liga’s lack of depth, but don’t moan, don’t whinge, just sit back and relish being around to see one of the most gorgeous of teams in the history of the sport. Kanoute has been brilliant for Sevilla and again he shakes off his marker before spraying the ball out to Navas on the right. Barcelona will feel aggrieved although they got away with one in the first half.
75 min: Sevilla nearly snatch it! Navarro clips a pass up to Negredo who rises and flicks the ball beautifully past Pique and into Perotti who’s away down the left. “I don’t think there is a great way to break it down,” says Jesse Galdston. Sevilla scream for a penalty, claiming Alves fouled Zokora, but the referee waves the appeals away and books Caceres for his protests. The world breathes a sigh of relief.
46 min: Lionel Messi has come out for the second half. Alves heads away fairly unconvincingly to Navas on the edge of the area but he rushes his volley and it goes over the bar.
GOAL! Sevilla 1-1 Barcelona (Navas, 49 min): This is a lovely goal and Barcelona were taken apart at will. “Some friends and I were making conversation during the Arsenal-Barcelona clash and I solicited suggestions for the current all-love/hate team,” says Jesse Galdston. “Great teams are made by great players and not systems etc. For a moment it looked like Valdes had lost the flight of it, but he recovered to hold on.
81 min: Sevilla have been outstanding in this half and look far more likely to snatch all three points with their rapier counters.
82 min: Saying that, this is so close to the winner for Barcelona as Bojan fizzes a fantastic, undefendable cross across the face of goal. Messi takes up the issue, wriggling towards the area, and it takes three Sevilla defenders to stop him. Goal-kick.
68 min: Busquets is brilliant. Iniesta is such a brilliant player. I’ve never seen a team like this lot, although clearly Arsenal showed in the first leg at the Emirates that they are vulnerable to speedy counters.
4 min: Capel darts inside from the right, but he’s hustled out of it by Abidal. He cuts inside and then lays it back to Caceres, whose shot is blocked back to Kanoute, whose fierce volley from 30 yards out stings the palms of Valdes