Barcelona returned to the top of the La Liga table with a 4-1 victory at Sevilla on Sunday night at a rainy Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
Lionel Messi scored twice and set up another as Barcelona overturned Alberto Moreno's early goal for Sevilla. The visitors had multiple chances to score again during a dominant early spell, but Barcelona drew level via Alexis Sanchez 11 minutes before half-time.
Messi then scored on either side of the break, and substitute Cesc Fabregas grabbed a late goal to seal the points.
Sevilla 1-4 Barcelona FT: Shots(OT) 15(4) - 9(5), Possession 37% - 63%, Tackles 24 - 16 http://t.co/1eSe6lQFl3— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 9, 2014
The result takes Barcelona to the top of the La Liga table, level on 57 points with both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Barcelona—who spent just one week away from first place after losing at home to Valencia last week—take top spot by virtue of their superior goal differential.
Sevilla, winless in five matches and losers of three straight, are seventh with 31 points.
"It was important to get the win to today and move back to the top of the league, Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta said, per Inside Spanish Football. "We lost the lead for six days and it didn’t take long to get it back. The conditions weren’t the best but we did it.
Iniesta added: "If we have opportunities to keep the lead, we can’t let them escape. We must remain strong for what lies ahead. It’s good for everyone to have this parity, this intensity in the title race. We’ll see what happens at the end."
Questions will remain over Barcelona's defensive qualities after the Blaugrana conceded from another set piece. But few will deny that Messi is back in top form after returning from an injury-enforced absence.
The Argentine superstar was responsible for Barcelona's first three goals and terrorised Sevilla's defence throughout the match, despite playing in difficult conditions.
Barcelona manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino made six changes to his lineup following Wednesday's 2-0 win at home to Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey. Four changes came at the defensive end, with Victor Valdes returning to goal behind three new faces in the defence—Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and Adriano. Alex Song and Iniesta, meanwhile, slotted into the midfield.
For Sevilla, Unai Emery selected Kevin Gameiro ahead of Jose Antonio Reyes in the attack. Captain Ivan Rakitic started in the midfield with Vicente Iborra and Dani Carrico.
Sunday's match came at an important time for Barcelona, who continue to push for honours on multiple fronts. While the three-way La Liga race remains tight, Martino's side also have two cup competitions in their sights.
This Wednesday, Barca will play Real Sociedad in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final. Then, after a home game against Rayo Vallecano in the league next weekend, the Blaugrana will travel to England to take on high-scoring Manchester City in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.
Barcelona suffered a stunning loss in their most recent league match, falling 3-2 at home to Valencia. Within moments of the kickoff, with the wet conditions negatively affecting the quality of the pitch, it was clear that Barcelona had another tough task ahead.
Sevilla settled more quickly, with Gameiro and Iborra having early shots blocked. The hosts took the lead in the 15th minute with a nicely worked goal.
Rakitic cut in from the right and traded passes with Diogo Figueiras before pulling back for Vitolo along the edge of the box. Vitolo laid off for Moreno, who finished at the far post for a 1-0 Sevilla lead.
It could have been 2-0 five minutes later, when Rakitic's free kick picked out an unmarked Carlos Bacca in the middle of the box. But Bacca's glancing header hit the base of the far upright and bounced away to safety.
Barcelona improved midway through the half, and in the 34th minute drew level. After drawing a foul in the middle, Messi curled in a fine free kick toward the back post, where an unmarked Alexis headed in to make it 1-1. Replays showed Alexis was offside.
125 ― Messi has now given 125 assists as a Barcelona player. Most to Pedro (17) #fcblive— MESSISTATS (@MessiStats) February 9, 2014
Sevilla were furious, but in the 29th minute, the hosts had only themselves to blame for another miss. Carlos Bacca held up play expertly as Sevilla countered quickly, and when he passed to Rakitic in the middle, the hosts looked destined to regain their lead. But Rakitic shot wide and Barcelona escaped again.
Five minutes later, Messi made Sevilla pay.
This time the visitors countered quickly, with Iniesta leading the charge before Messi laid off for Pedro on the right. Pedro then passed back to the middle for Messi, who popped the ball into the air with his first touch before powering an unstoppable half-volley into the net.
Barcelona were buoyed by the second goal and headed into half-time leading 2-1. Sevilla, meanwhile, must have wondered how they were behind.
The action continued at both ends in a lively start to the second half.
In the 50th minute, Vitolo dispossessed Montoya, who was Barcelona's last defender, and bore down on goal before shooting wide. Two minutes later at the other end, Xavi held off a defender in the box and laid off for Alexis on the right, only for Alexis to shoot wide.
Valdes then kept Barcelona ahead with two fine saves in the space of a few seconds. First he dived to his left to parry Bacca's curling effort from long distance. Then he blocked Gameiro's rebound with his legs.
Moments later, Messi once again made Sevilla pay for their missed chances.
In the 56th minute, Messi started a flowing move down Sevilla's midsection before passing to Iniesta on the right. Both surged forward before Iniesta passed back to Messi in the middle. Messi controlled with his first touch and curled a low shot in at the near post to make it 3-1.
Sevilla had chances thereafter, but couldn't find a second goal. Figueiras met Rakitic's free kick at the back post in the 69th minute, but he couldn't direct his header on target. Then Bacca cut through Barca's box in the 73rd minute, but shot into the side netting.
The hosts simply couldn't find the final product, but that wasn't the case for Barcelona, who sealed the points with a fourth goal in the 88th minute as substitute Cesc Fabregas chipped in from Alexis' pass.
"Barcelona, in the few chances they had, took advantage and scored important goals, but that’s football," Rakitic said, per Inside Spanish Football. "But we can’t allow ourselves to hang our heads. We played a great game. Against the best, we can’t afford to make mistakes because they are unforgiving."
|Piotr Trachowski (for Iborra, 64')||6|
|Denis Cheryshev (for Gameiro, 64')||6|
|Jairo (for Vitolo, 77')||6|
|Cesc Fabregas (for Pedro, 73')||7|
|Sergio Busquets (for Xavi, 83')||No rating|
|Sergi Roberto (for Alexis, 89')||No rating|
Barcelona play at Real Sociedad on Wednesday for the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final and return to the league with a home match against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Sevilla host Valencia in the league next Sunday.