CAMP NOU, Barcelona — The second-half onslaught never came. Everybody was waiting for it.
Luis Enrique explained his team's slow performance in the first period against Arsenal in the Champions League last week as something that enabled the high-class play we saw in the next 45 minutes.
"Everyone who understands football knows we had to have a first half like that to be able to do the second," he said after the game.
Against Sevilla, though, Barcelona failed to strike up their best rhythm, particularly in front of goal. However, they still ended up with a 2-1 win and three points that take them an astonishing 12 clear of rivals Real Madrid, and eight of second-placed Atletico.
They blew away the Galicians in the final 20 minutes, recommended viewing for any football fan who has not yet seen it. A similar denouement was expected, but it didn't follow here.
Sevilla had taken the lead after Jordi Alba was caught out by Vitolo, who volleyed home after excellent work from Michael Krohn-Dehli and Benoit Tremoulinas down the Andalusians' left side.
Messi equalised with a laser-guided free-kick, which seared into the top-right corner, leaving Sergio Rico spinning around to see it bouncing around in the back of his net.
The second goal came almost immediately after the break, with Gerard Pique prodding home after good work by Messi and Suarez. It only added to the expectations that Barcelona were about to explode. But they never did, and that is down to tiredness.
Other reasons, too, though. Firstly, they cannot be expected to win every game by a landslide, it simply isn't feasible.
Secondly, three points are three points, and this haul extended Barcelona's lead at the top of La Liga and made it 34 games without defeat for the Catalans, equalling Real Madrid's all-time record.
Thirdly, as Luis Enrique pointed out after the match, Sevilla are a fantastic side.
"For me, Sevilla are the best team that have come to Camp Nou this season," he told the assembled journalists.
They worked hard, like Celta Vigo, causing damage down the flanks and sending various balls skidding through Barcelona's area, although they were unable to finish any of them as they chased an equaliser.
But despite all this, it seems the demands of the calendar are playing a part too.
Since they beat Real Betis 4-0 on December 30, there has been no respite, with a game every three days or so.
Barcelona have played every Saturday or Sunday, and every Tuesday or Wednesday in 2016 thus far.
This week is the first time that pattern breaks, because their match against Rayo Vallecano is scheduled for Thursday, although they are then flung into a game at Eibar on Sunday, leaving only two days of rest.
Luis Enrique has not rotated his side much, preferring to go with his gala XI on as many occasions as he can, with only one or two changes.
Against Sevilla he tried to play a few others, with Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto ahead of Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic in midfield, Aleix Vidal for Dani Alves at right-back and Jeremy Mathieu in for Javier Mascherano.
However, with Sevilla impressing, Lucho sought control and brought on the rested players, Iniesta, Rakitic and Alves.
The game against Rayo on Thursday may be a time to make wholesale changes. Not because the Madrid-based side are easy opponents, but because with their points cushion at the top of the table, they can afford to, and it could work wonders for the squad.
A rest against Rayo Vallecano would then make it a week's break for the top stars before they face Eibar on Sunday, ahead of their first free midweek spot of the year.
Their next game after Eibar on March 6 is Getafe at home on the 12th, a huge six days to recover.
Then comes Arsenal in the Champions League, before a tricky away game against Villarreal, the international fixtures and then the Clasico, on April 2.
Resting players against Rayo Vallecano is risky and would put their unbeaten streak in danger, but then so is playing tired men, and expecting them to do the business against Eibar at the weekend.
Although they may not appreciate it, it might be best for Messi, Neymar and Suarez to be benched against Rayo, allowing Munir El Haddadi, Arda and Sandro Ramirez to play in the front three.
They should still be enough for the Blaugrana to emerge triumphant, but more important than the win is allowing the key men to recharge for the challenges ahead.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
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