WIth league play winding down, Barcelona looked to secure three of a possible nine points that would put La Liga out of reach before they square off against Madrid at el Bernabeu. Bojan Krikic, Barcelona's wonder-kid who has struggled for playing time behind Pedro, got a rare start, and the two sides put on a dazzling display of high-octane football.
Busquets looked silky smooth returning to his natural position as defensive mid, and started some danger in the 17th minute with a lovely run up the middle. Barcelona's defense in general looked solid with Pique back in the middle and Busquets working the pivot.
Messi was terrific from the start, hustling all the way back in defense to cut off the speedy Diego Capel, and pressuring Sevilla's keeper on the other end moments later.
Bojan too looked good up top, combining nicely with Messi in tight space, receiving and returning passes from midfield. He definitely has "el perfil" (the type) of a Barça forward, but with Messi, Villa, and Pedro to compete with, he needed to impress tonight.
In the 29th minute he did just that. Receiving from Xavi on the left side, Bojan dropped to Iniesta and cut to goal. Iniesta found Alves on the far side of the box with a delightful chip, who neatly passed right around the keeper to Bojan, who was taken down from behind but slid across the goal line with the ball at his feet. The youngster's celebration showed how big this score was for him—his first in three months.
Barcelona continued to force the issue, but began to feel the enormous effect of Sevilla's Martin Caceras on the game. In the 35th minute, the Uruguayan international made two crucial stops in a row, separated by a run all the way up the right flank with Bojan in tow—the first of many spirited takes.
In the 38th minute, Iniesta had a gorgeous run up the middle, dropping off to Villa on the right, who blew a shot into the stands. It was a decisive run for Iniesta akin to his goal-generating movements against Arsenal, and a good sign for Barcelona that his form is really picking up.
Another brilliant combination came in the 41st, building methodically in the midfield with Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi. Xavi ended up receiving, Messi making a run straight at goal, and Xavi finding him with a perfect dime (which Messi headed crisply off the crossbar). Impudent attacking—direct, obvious, and simple—Messi makes this all possible with his incredible pace.
Two minutes later, Messi again came tearing up the middle and dropped off to Bojan on the edge of the box, who was taken down from behind. The free kick was taken by Messi, whose curling strike swung through the wall over a ducking Iniesta, but was parried away brilliantly by Varas' dive.
Sevilla came out firing in the second half, and scored a lovely goal in the opening minutes. Negredo broke free on the right side, and sent a cross that was headed home by Sevilla captain Navas. Minutes later Negredo found himself completely free in front of goal, but blew the shot well over the crossbar. The pace of the match wouldn't let up from here on in.
Caceras continued to be absolutely beastly—coming out of the back with ferocious pace, and leading the counterattack with all-out sprints on goal.
The middle minutes of the half got pretty chippy: Xavi and Medel exchanged shoves and saw yellow, before Busquets was taken down by Navarro, who received Sevilla's fourth yellow.
The Barça attack could be described as "tiki-taka-Messi": the ball moving methodically until reaching Messi, when it's taken full speed directly at goal. But Caceras and the rest of Sevilla's defense stopped him time and again outside the box.
In the 70th minute Caceras again made a ridiculous run, streaking up the right side and getting off a cross under pressure from the baseline. This is a defender with out-of-this-world fitness, and a man Barcelona may reincorporate into their squad next season.
In the 74th, Messi was again picked cleanly by Caceras. Sevilla's counterattack sprung Perotti past Pique, who laid a cross to Navas that was somehow cleared by the toes of a sliding Valdes.
Four minutes later Perotti again beat Pique around the outside, dropping a perfect cross on the foot of Kanoute, whose first-touch shot went wide.
With Barcelona being stood up just outside the box, Sevilla continued with free-flowing counterattacks—men coming forward and taking free cracks on goal—like Kanoute whose screaming strike from way out was saved masterfully by Valdes.
The 81st minute saw a play unlike any I've witnessed in soccer: Abidal, one-on-one with Negredo in defense, won the ball briefly but went to ground. As the ball trickled past, he flung himself forward like a worm to spear the ball away from Negredo, and allow Barça to clear.
More chances came for Barcelona in the final ten minutes: Bojan's cross in the 83rd was just barely out of reach of Messi, Iniesta's strike from outside the box ricocheted off the crossbar in the 85th, and a rebound he sent on goal was cleared off the line in the 91st.
The match wound down with perhaps the most heart-pounding football Barcelona has played all season. Sevilla fought for their roaring home crowd, opening up counterattacks with their distinctive free-wheeling style, and "los bajitos" of Barça fought valiantly to the final whistle.
Despite some heated exchanges, the game ended with cordial hand-shakes, kisses, and jersey exchanges. Both teams perhaps recognized the incredible quality of the match, the fact that each side had performed admirably, and that Spanish football was well served by their performance. A 1-1 draw well-earned by both sides, and an absolute thriller.
With Madrid winning comfortably the day before, Barcelona is now but five points clear at the top of the table, and El Clasico is sure to be a meaningful match. Hay Liga?