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Monday April 2 2018
Messi makes the difference

Sevilla almost claimed a famous win over Barcelona before Lionel Messi got involved. Andrew Tuft explains why they should be heartened by the result…

Losing a two-goal lead in the final two minutes of a match would leave any team disheartened, and not even the compensation of it being Lionel Messi who inspired Barcelona’s comeback against Sevilla is likely to ease the pain for Los Nervionenses. But in the cold light of day, Vincenzo Montella’s side should feel enlivened, particularly ahead of their Champions League meeting with Bayern Munich.

Maybe it was Barcelona without Messi for an hour - the fact remains, Sevilla were two goals clear of a team containing Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, all either highly-decorated iconic names of the sport, or extravagant signings made in the past year or so. Bayern have plenty of players who fit into those categories too, but they don’t have a Messi of their own. The Champions League betting takes as much into account - Messi is why the Catalans are clear favourites in the odds.

Sevilla are considered rank outsiders to win the competition and on paper that seems fair, but they weren’t fancied against Manchester United either, and yet they’re the ones preparing for a quarter-final while Jose Mourinho sits at home and stews. Bayern might not make the same mistakes as the Red Devils but they’ve been bitten by over-confidence before, most notably when facing Chelsea in the 2012 final, at their own Allianz Arena. Sevilla, meanwhile, have European competition in their blood.

So too, of course, do Bayern, but the difference is that Sevilla’s continental success all came within the past 20 years. Bayern’s legacy stretches back almost 40 years, when the European Cup was claimed in 1974, 1975 and 1976. There have been occasional successes since - 2001 and 2013 - but each of Sevilla’s five UEFA Cups/Europa Leagues was claimed within a 10-year period, between 2006 and 2016. It may be a step up to compete in the latter stages of the Champions League - one Sevilla haven’t yet made - but there was a time they hadn’t made that step in the Europa League either. Now, they are the competition’s most successful club.

That’s not to say Sevilla will eliminate Bayern, only that they shouldn’t be afraid of the Bavarians, and that Saturday’s disappointment shouldn’t make Montella’s team cower. Quite the opposite. Jupp Heynckes’ side may have crushed Borussia Dortmund on Saturday - winning 6-0 - but this isn’t the Dortmund of a few years ago, but rather a Dortmund in a continual state of flux. And while the points gap between Bayern and Dortmund is smaller than the gap between Barca and Sevilla, the gap for 88 minutes on the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan pitch on Saturday was non-existent.

Sevilla were two minutes from a famous win. If Ernesto Valverde waits two minutes to introduce Messi, maybe they hold on. Maybe over two legs - two one-off games - Sevilla can dig that little bit deeper, eliminate Bayern and throw the Champions League wide open. There’ll be no Messi this time. And that could be the difference again.

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