In a tense night of football, Barcelona and Sevilla played out a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou.
On a day where the Premier League was throwing up absurd results full of fun attacking and comedic defending, and when Real Madrid squeaked a win against Levante thanks mainly to the brilliance of their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the expectation for Barcelona and Sevilla to deliver a “main event” worthy of such a strange Sunday was very high.
And whilst it failed to deliver the same kind of madcap hijinks, it did deliver the quality.
Well, sort of.
The first-half at the Camp Nou was an absolutely thrilling high-wire act between two sides that were well structured and determined to outdo each other. Both Barcelona and Sevilla came to play but unlike last week in Catalunya when Barcelona and Villarreal came to play but only one of the sides knew how to defend, here Sevilla were their usual rock solid self so the result was an even match.
Sevilla started the game the brighter side, and took the lead when Luuk de Jong smashed home. Suso worked a short corner to bullet a cross in, but Frenkie de Jong couldn’t quite get the ball clear as Jules Koundé devoured him in the air. The ball hit the ground and bounced up where the Dutchman appeared to thunder the ball into the back of the net.
The goal just seemed to spur Barcelona to life, almost instantly Leo Messi picked the ball up 40 yards from goal and picked out a beautiful pass over the top of the defence for Jordi Alba. The old connection was about to come good but Jesus Navas appeared to intervene. Sevilla’s skipper knew he couldn’t let the ball run, but his attempted clearance was sloppy and fell right to the onrushing Coutinho. The Brazilian finished calmly to draw the home side level.
That was just the first 10 minutes. And the rest of the first half was full of this kind of probing. Both sides would continue driving forward, with Barcelona only restricted by the awful attacking display of Antoine Griezmann. Both teams pressed magnificently, they tracked back consistently. No quarter was given, this was high-level football.
Second-half Sevilla kept up the pressure but even though Barcelona removed Griezmann they didn’t really improve too much. In fact the Blaugrana grew more and more timid, unwilling to commit men forward into the final third to create danger.
Koeman made changes, mostly either preserving the team’s structure or reinforcing midfield. But Sevilla poured forward, bringing on Youssef En-Neysri to try and break Barcelona down. Again they couldn’t get anywhere. And when the Blaugrana did put their foot down for the last 10 minutes, Sevilla were able to stand strong.
This was a recurring theme in the game where the best players were arguably the four centre-backs. Whenever one side started pushing in attack, the other side defended superbly. Jules Koundé and Diego Carlos are of course fast becoming a legendary defensive partnership and they excelled today. Koundé in particular repeatedly shut down Ansu Fati whenever the young man would get running at Sevilla.
Gerard Piqué is obviously one of the world’s great defenders but today he wasn’t partnered by Clement Lenglet but by 20-year-old Ronald Araujo. Despite his inexperience, the Uruguayan was phenomenally composed. He adds so much athletic prowess to the defence but was no slouch technically, calmly handling the incessant Sevilla press as the Blaugrana moved the ball out from the back.
In the end the second-half was not that exciting, besides a surprise Barcelona debut by Sergino Dest at left-back after Jordi Alba’s injury. Sevilla began attacking with just two or three players only, and Barcelona had just one chance to win through Francisco Trincao. The Portuguese was played in behind by Messi but Yassine Bono came out to make a big stop. It was very much defences on top.
The fact that both teams seemed happy with the draw speaks volumes to the state of La Liga this season. This match was the main event and Sevilla were able to continue their superb form and play Barcelona at their own level, showing themselves to be serious title contenders. Meanwhile Barcelona managed to be very solid defensively despite the overwhelming Sevilla press. That in itself is a surprise given how this squad wilted in the face of the Bayern Munich press just a month ago.
So Sevilla are as good as we had all hoped and Barcelona are also better than we thought, albeit very much still a work in progress under Ronald Koeman. The ultimate conclusion from this weekend’s action, particularly the main event between Barcelona and Sevilla, is that La Liga is all to play for this season. This is the new normal: the big two aren’t at their brilliant best and other contenders are rising fast.
Don’t take your eyes off La Liga in 2020/21, it could be a historic season.