At half time it was not going to plan for Barcelona. In an electrifying atmosphere at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Sevilla held the advantage. They were a goal to the good after more than matching their illustrious visitors. Indeed, Tito Vilanova’s side looked rattled, frustrated and had been epitomised by Lionel Messi’s rant with the match official as he headed for the tunnel.
For the Catalans, things got worse before they got better. Just minutes into the second half, Sergio Busquets conceded possession in his own half. Gary Medel seized on the ball, passed to Alvaro Negredo and the Spain international made it two. It was all going to plan for the Sevillistas.
But, just five minutes later and Barca were back in the game and through an unlikely source – Cesc Fabregas. He had not scored since January this year, a long time even for a false No 9. Still, Michel’s side appeared in control. Then Medel was sent off.
With the slightest tilt of the head, the Chilean was adjudged to have head-butted Fabregas, who certainly made the most of it. He was given his marching orders and it changed everything.
Sevilla tried to close up shop. Barcelona went on the attack. The game was now being exclusively played in the home team’s half. To keep their lead, they would have to survive wave after wave of Barca attacks. Under pressure and down a man, they buckled.
It was Cesc again the scorer. Lionel Messi was the provider. Honours were even now with just injury time remaining. Relentlessly and ceaselessly Vilanova’s men continued to pour forward in search of an unlikely winner. Eventually, it came. On from the bench, it was David Villa who claimed the vital goal. He became the hero on the night.
Against the odds, Barcelona had won. They had come back from two goals down. It was the first time they had done so since January 19, 1997. Coincidentally, this was achieved against Seville’s other team – Real Betis. They made it six wins from six, just the fifth time in their history that they have done so. Their 100 per cent record kept intact, only just and it was not the first time that they had only scraped it.
Against Granada, they also left it very late. Despite dominating in every aspect, apart from saves made by their goalkeeper, they were unable to break the deadlock. At least, not until the 87th minute when another hero from the substitutes’ bench – Xavi Hernandez on this occasion – came on to save the day. Three days earlier against Spartak Moscow, it was a similar story. Down 2-1, Messi popped up with an equaliser before netting the winner nine minutes from time.
Dramatic finishes have become something of a theme for Barcelona this season. In the nine matches they have played in all competitions, in five of them they have been trailing. Yet, only once have they not gone on to win the game, thanks to a developing penchant for scoring goals in the latter stages of games.
After Saturday night’s victory, Barcelona have now notched a total of 17 goals in the Primera Division. Six of these have come in the last 10 minutes of play, nine in the last 15 minutes of play and 11 in the second half – all three statistics are more than for any other team. More than half of their goals this term have come in the last quarter of an hour of play. To compare, last season they scored only slightly over 20 per cent of their goals during the same period of play.
The League table, if only considering results as they have stood at half-time, would see Barca share fourth spot with Malaga and Real Madrid and they would only have 10 points, not the 18 points that they now sit atop of the table with.
Vilanova will no doubt be concerned by all this. Coaches, it can be safely assumed, never plan for their teams to require late goals to salvage points, avoid defeats and snatch victories. Indeed just on Friday was he talking of the importance of scoring early to set the tone. Yet, at the same time, the battling qualities his side have shown in securing points late on in games will also give him much encouragement. It displays their level of determination, whilst their hunger for yet more success has helped Vilanova record the best start for a Coach in the club’s history.
It has often been nail-biting. It has often been too close for comfort. But, four points clear at the top and with an 11-point gap between them and Real Madrid, for Barcelona thus far everything has gone to plan.