Barcelona completed an unlikely comeback against Sevilla on Saturday to preserve their unbeaten run in La Liga, stretching it to 37 matches with a 2-2 draw.
Here's what happened in the contest:
Barcelona Attack Toothless Without Messi, but Forward Comes to the Rescue
With the UEFA Champions League fixture against Roma on the horizon, manager Ernesto Valverde followed the example Zinedine Zidane set with Real Madrid earlier in the day. Zidane rested Cristiano Ronaldo against Las Palmas, and Messi started on the bench for the Catalans.
While Real still cruised past Las Palmas, Barcelona struggled without their biggest star. Fans were not happy:
Messi started warming up after Muriel's goal and was introduced after 57 minutes. For the longest time, it seemed it wouldn't matter, but the comeback wouldn't have happened without him.
Both goals fell in the final minutes, with Suarez pushing the ball home from close range and Messi firing a perfect curling strike into the net shortly after. It was hardly deserved, but it didn't matter, as once again, the Argentina international came to the rescue.
Barcelona Fizzle after Fast Start
The Catalans started the contest well and threatened early through Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, but they soon lost their spark. Vazquez scored his goal after 36 minutes, but by that point, Angel Correa could have already opened the scoring.
When Vazquez did score―courtesy of a great assist from Correa―it was clear all was not well with the Blaugrana, per Sport:
Gerard Pique had a good chance to pull his side level before half-time, but all in all, it was a poor showing from the La Liga leaders before the break. Their poor play continued in the second half, with Muriel doubling the advantage after 50 minutes.
The two late goals will change the narrative, placing the focus on Barcelona's resolve and strength of character. But they were second-best for the vast majority of Saturday's contest and will have to do better if they want to be successful in Europe.
Navas, Vazquez Misses Prove Costly
Messi might not have entered the pitch if Jesus Navas and Vazquez had killed off the match shortly after Muriel's goal. The two wasted a glorious chance after a Marc-Andre terStegen mistake, with the former seeing his effort blocked by Pique and the latter somehow missing from an open position.
Top teams will punish those mistakes, and that's exactly what happened on Saturday.
Sevilla Nearly Do it Again
Sevilla's stadium, the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, is known as one of the toughest places to visit in Spain. Just ask La Liga's great undefeated sides, per Goal's Ben Hayward:
Defensive Questions for Blaugrana
Barcelona's defence has been hailed throughout the season, but the unit appeared rusty coming back from the international break. Navas and Muriel both missed excellent chances in the second half, and a more efficient attack would have scored a lot more than two goals.
That's a bad sign for the Catalans moving forward, with crucial contests against Roma and Valencia on the schedule for April, as well as a rematch with Sevilla in the Copa del Rey. Pique and Samuel Umtiti will likely return to form, but they better do so fast.
Barcelona host AS Roma in the Champions League, while Sevilla welcome Bayern Munich.