It must be demoralising to face Barcelona.
To play as well as Sevilla did and leave the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan empty-handed doesn’t make any sense. But neither does Lionel Messi.
An anomaly, a freak, an alien, it’s all been said before but we must keep repeating ourselves until he hangs up his boots.
The Argentine maestro pulled Barcelona away from the edge of a black hole with a sensational hat-trick on Saturday, the 50th of his career, earning them a crucial 4-2 win in Andalusia.
In a disastrous first half, it seemed like the Catalans were opening the door for Atletico and Real Madrid to sweep back into the title race, but thanks to Messi, Barca sit provisionally 10 points clear at the top.
They are in a crucial period of the season, facing Lyon in the Champions League while defending the Spanish title against a rejuvenated Real Madrid, whom they face in a Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday and again on Saturday in La Liga.
Losing against Sevilla would have been a terrible way to prepare for that challenge, and for a while it seemed like that’s what Barcelona were intent on doing.
Jesus Navas struck on the counter with the defence torn wide open to send Sevilla ahead, after Messi had conceded possession high up the pitch.
Perhaps the rage of having given that goal away, or the comments about Barcelona’s lack of accuracy and his performances over the past few weeks, or the fractured arm he suffered against Sevilla in October drove him into taking drastic action.
But more likely, he had just recovered from a niggling thigh problem and this game saw him move back to his brutal best.
An unstoppable volley from Ivan Rakitic’s cross pulled Barcelona level, although Gabriel Mercado sent Sevilla ahead again before half-time.
But Messi had the bit between his teeth now and could not be held back, sweeping another superb shot into the top corner from the edge of the box with his right foot.
It was a much needed effort, as strike partner Luis Suarez’s luck was still out. The Uruguayan was again below his best, not offering the team much from his position leading the line.
Even when the forward did everything right and was brought down by Simon Kjaer in the area, the referee ignored his penalty appeals.
It was a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation and the officials didn’t even turn to VAR, presumably because those watching didn’t think the referee had made an clear and obvious mistake.
If the Uruguayan is playing this badly, the club need another option desperately. And with Kevin-Prince Boateng not even included in the squad, Barcelona’s dubious decision to sign the Sassuolo forward on loan must be questioned.
Suarez eventually struck in stoppage time with a neat lob, after Messi set him up brilliantly. The forward has his close friend and strike-partner to thank for how well he has done at Barcelona, with Messi feeding him ball after ball.
That was his first goal in six games and Barcelona will be praying it is the start of a new run ahead of the impending double Clasico week.
Philippe Coutinho was similarly poor, remaining in some kind of fugue state.
The Brazilian playmaker needs to remember who he is and why Barcelona signed him. Until he does, Coutinho just gets in the way.
Valverde would have liked to take him off earlier but probably didn’t so as not to crush his level of morale any lower.
When the coach eventually did replace Coutinho for youngster Carles Alena, the La Masia midfielder did more with one deflected shot than the Brazilian managed in the previous 79 minutes.
Alena’s effort was knocked into Messi’s path and the No. 10 produced that typical, dinked finish over the helpless Tomas Vaclik to complete his hat-trick.
That was Messi's 25th of the season in La Liga - increasing his lead atop the league's goalscoring charts.
“It was really important to win today, now really tough games are coming up,” said Messi in a rare chat with beIN Sports after the game. “We leave here happy because it was a big triumph. It’s always hard here at this stadium.
“We can't always play at a great level. We found it hard to finish but today we were ourselves again and we had a great game and the goals came too."
After a couple of weeks looking uncalibrated, by his high standards, it was business as usual for Messi in Seville.