Barcelona passed their first stern test of the season in style as they claimed a 3-0 victory over Sevilla on Saturday night.
Sevilla lined up as expected, with Tom De Mul replacing the suspended Jesus Navas. Ex-Blaugrana player Fernando Navarro was in for a long night against Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves, while Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute led the line up front.
Josep Guardiola put out arguably his strongest line-up, with Carlos Puyol played in his now customary left-back position, while Thierry Henry, Messi and Samuel Eto'o formed a fearsome attacking trident. Daniel Alves and Seydou Keita started against their former club.
Before this match, Sevilla had conceded the least goals in the league, while Barcelona had scored the most, so something was going to give. Much of the build-up had been spent elaborating on the clash between Adriano and Daniel Alves, and they both looked lively early on. It was the home side who started better, pressuring Barca at every opportunity.
After a few long shots by both sides, it was Luis Fabiano who had the first real chance of the match, as he met Adriano's cross, only to flick it just over the bar. The home side were clearly dominant, as the visitors had to be content to feed on scraps on the counter. Sevilla, however, were failing to translate their possession into clear-cut chances.
They would soon pay, as Barcelona scored with one of their first chances of the game. The ball bounced loose 12 yards from the goal, and Eto'o pounced in customary fashion to send the ball flying past Palop. Barca had taken the lead, but Sevilla continued to attack with venom, albeit without a final product.
Gerard Pique's lack of pace was being exposed, and it almost cost the Blaugrana when Kanoute found Luis Fabiano, but he shot wide of the far post. As Sevilla continued to spurn chances, Barcelona grew in confidence, with Messi and Alves in particular giving Navarro a tough time, as expected. Samuel Eto'o was also looking lively, as his shot from outside the box was well saved by Palop.
On 30 minutes, Samuel Eto'o picked up a silly yellow card for distracting Palop as he was taking a goal kick, a booking that means he will miss the game against Valencia next week. Meanwhile, Sevilla were denied a stonewall penalty when Kanoute was brought down in the box by Pique. Bizarrely, the free-kick went the other way, perhaps for an incorrectly suspected offside. It was a shocking decision that understandably angered the home fans.
Sevilla continued to press, bombarding Barcelona's box with a series of threatening crosses. Still, they were unable to get players on the end of them, and most of their actual shots were still restricted to long distance efforts. On the stroke of half-time, however, the dangerous Adriano sent a sublime ball to Kanoute, whose volley went just wide of the post.
Just as the Barca players were getting ready for the half-time break, Sevilla took a quick free-kick that almost caught them out. Kanoute was released and the defence looked desperately for a non-existent offside flag, but the Mali international could only hit the crossbar. The rebound fell to Luis Fabiano, but he headed straight at Valdes.
That was the last action of the match, as Barcelona went into the break ahead, arguably undeservedly. Having said that, Sevilla only had themselves to blame for their poor finishing in front of goal.
The second period started with Barcelona engaging in their beloved tiki-taka, frustrating Sevilla as they held on to the ball with ease. It did not take long for Manolo Jimenez to look to his bench, bringing on the former Barca youth-team player Diego Capel for the largely ineffective Tom De Mul.
Thierry Henry was enjoying more space in the second half, but his shots from the left flank were routinely saved by Palop. The other players, however, were finding it harder to find the fluidity of the first half, as both sides strove to deny each other any space. In an effort to improve the situation, Jimenez brought Romaric on for Enzo Maresca with about half an hour to play.
As Sevilla started to tire, Messi began to come into his own. His fantastic dribbling skills were in evidence as Aquivaldo Mosquera in particular was put to the sword. On 69 minutes, one such run ended with a fierce shot that was well saved by Palop.
As the game neared the final whistle, Barcelona were certainly in the ascendancy, while Sevilla were really struggling to mount any serious attacks. Jimenez laid down his final cards of the night, bringing Renato on for Sebastien Squillaci. Josep Guardiola responded immediately, taking Keita off and bringing Sergio Busquets on in his place.
With 12 minutes to go, Lionel Messi scored a spectacular goal to increase Barca's lead. Xavi's header found the Argentine 18 yards from goal, and he controlled with his head before rifling in a spectacular dipping volley to leave Palop helpless.
Straight from the kick-off, Eto'o had a golden chance to seal the game, but he inexplicably mishit his shot from 12 yards out after Messi had cut it back to him with the goal gaping. Despite being two ahead, Barca were looking far more likely to score, as Sevilla looked despondent.
With five minutes to go, any chance Sevilla had of claiming a point disappeared when Luis Fabiano was sent off for an elbow into Busquets' face. The Brazilian was incensed, and made his feelings certain as he had to be dragged off the pitch. The replays indicated that he had no right to be upset.
To add salt to the wounds, Lionel Messi added another in stoppage time. Aliaksandr Hleb, who had only been on for a minute, found the Argentine, who rounded Palop before slotting into an empty net to put the proverbial icing on the cake.
There is a tough month ahead for Barcelona, but on this evidence their opponents should be very worried. Sevilla, meanwhile, must prepare for a trip to Real Madrid next week.
Sevilla 0-3 Barcelona
Messi 78, 92
Sevilla: Palop - Mosquera, Squillaci (Renato 73), Escude, Navarro - De Mul (Capel 55), Maresca (Romaric 63), Fazio, Adriano - Fabiano, Kanoute
Barcelona: Valdes - Alves, Marquez, Pique, Puyol - Toure, Keita (Busquets 74), Xavi (Gudjohnsen 87) - Messi, Henry (Hleb 90), Eto'o
Yellow Cards: Eto'o 30, Marquez 62, Pique 75
Red Cards: Luis Fabiano 84