Lionel Messi scored once and created another to help Barcelona to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Sevilla in Sunday’s LaLiga encounter at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with Luis Suarez netting the winner in the 61st minute.
Second-placed Barcelona narrowed the gap with leaders Real Madrid to two points heading into the international break and went some way to restoring confidence having been beaten 3-1 by Manchester City in the Champions League earlier this week.
It was Jorge Sampaoli’s men who enjoyed the better start, though, and deservedly went 1-0 ahead when Vitolo punished a defensive mistake from Sergi Roberto.
But it was not meant to be for Sevilla as Messi levelled the scoring in the closing stages of the first half – his 27th goal against Sevilla, his favourite opponent – before the Argentine set up Luis Suarez for the winner after the break.
Sevilla started the match with attacking intentions and got their first chance after just 30 seconds, Luciano Vietto shrugging off Javier Mascherano on the edge of the box before unleashing a tame shot towards the far post that was easily saved by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Barca could have opened the scoring just minutes later after a rapid counterattack involving their illustrious attacking trio. Messi cut inside from the right before playing in Neymar down the middle, who in turn set up Luis Suarez on the left-hand side of the area, but Sergio Rico did well to keep out the Uruguay international’s low shot.
The home side continued to cause the Barcelona backline all kinds of trouble and Vitolo handed them the lead after 15 minutes to punish poor defending from Sergi Roberto. The right-back allowed Vitolo straight through on goal after failing to intercept Pablo Sarabia’s throughball and the winger kept his cool in front of Ter Stegen to break the deadlock.
Sevilla got chances to add a second via Vietto and again Vitolo, but yet another quick Barca break in the closing stages of the first half saw Messi level somewhat against the run of play. Denis Suarez set up Neymar down the left, with the Brazilian dancing past two opponents before finding Messi and the Argentine coolly slotted home from just outside the box.
Messi threatened for Barcelona on a number of occasions early in the second half as the Catalans went in search of a winner, but the Argentine had a shot blocked by Adil Rami, before Sergio Rico tipped a volley over the crossbar after some good work from Luis Suarez.
The visitors slowly took control of the game after the break and they went 2-1 up at the hour mark via Luis Suarez. Messi carved open the Sevilla defence with a mazy dribble through the middle before setting up his team-mate and the striker beat Sergio Rico with a powerful low shot.
Steven N’Zonzi came close to equalising after a corner kick, while Luis Suarez – who picked up a late yellow card that means he will miss Barca’s next game against Malaga through suspension -and Neymar could have added a third for the champions, but it ended 2-1.
Key Opta stats:
– Messi has had a hand in 23 goals this season (16 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues (all comps).
– Luis Suarez has now scored against 21 of the 23 different sides that he has faced in LaLiga.
– Neymar has provided 10 assists this season, at least three more than any other LaLiga player (all competitions).
– Messi has scored 21 goals in his 21 league meetings with Sevilla.
– Luis Enrique has won a LaLiga away game against Sevilla for the first time as Barcelona manager (D1 L1).