The Catalans showed impressive character in coming from behind to triumph at Camp Nou, thanks to David Villa and Lionel Messi, but their defensive frailties were again on showBarcelona somewhat-fortuitously put its Champions League woe behind it with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Sevilla that allowed the Catalans to stretch their lead at the top of La Liga to 15 points.
Just as it did against AC Milan at San Siro on Wednesday night, the Blaugrana looked largely devoid of ideas for long periods and their defensive deficiencies were exposed once more when Rojiblancos defender Alberto Botia silenced Camp Nou just before the break.
David Villa and Lionel Messi turned the game back in Barca's favor by the hour mark but they would not have held on to all three points had it not been for some dreadfully wasteful finishing from both Ivan Rakitic and Alvaro Negredo.
While Real Madrid initially left star man Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench for their meeting with Deportivo La Coruna earlier in the evening, with Tuesday’s Copa del Rey Clasico at Camp Nou very much in mind, Barca opted to risk starting with Messi up top, which was just as well, really.
One imagines that the diminutive Argentine would have been dead against a rest, anyway, given that he had effectively taken a night off against Milan in midweek. Messi certainly looked a different player against Sevilla, creating an opening for Andres Iniesta inside the first five minutes, only to see his teammate ultimately crowded out after cutting inside on to his right foot.
The mercurial duo combined again midway through the first half when Iniesta nonchalantly picked out his teammate in a couple of yards of space on the right-hand side of the box. However, Messi’s low strike from an acute angle was easily dealt with by Beto.
Truth be told, the Sevilla players were coping quite comfortably with everything that Barca were throwing at them. Admittedly, their most effective tactic was taking it in terms to chop down Messi every time he attempted to build up a head of steam, but their defensive shape was excellent and they stunned their hosts with a classic sucker punch just before the break.
Rakitic floated a free kick from left to right and, after controlling it beautifully, Coke lofted the ball into the area for Botia to beat Victor Valdes with a downward header. Camp Nou was stunned - and yet it was wholly unsurprising given its side’s woeful defensive record of late.
It was clear that the Blaugrana needed a swift riposte to restore their fragile confidence - and they got one five minutes into the second period, Villa cushioning a sublime cross from Dani Alves past a helpless Beto.
The goal, coupled with the halftime introduction of Cristian Tello in place of the typically ineffective Alexis Sanchez, transformed Barcelona and it took the lead just before the hour mark. Messi started and finished the move, passing wide to Tello before losing his man, Botia, in the area and then coolly sidefooting the return-ball home.
Messi went close to netting a second goal in as many minutes but his long-range effort flew just over. However, Sevilla had not gone away and Rakitic really should have restored parity on 69 minutes but he dragged his shot wide after being the recipient of a terrific cut-back from the impressive Navas.
If that was profligate, what followed five minutes later was far worse, Negredo lifting the ball over the bar after being put straight through on goal by Rakitic's slide-rule pass. Sevilla would not get a better chance to salvage what, on the whole, would have been a deserved draw.