Was there a flicker of doubt for a moment on one of the coldest Barcelona nights in living memory, which meant the Camp Nou was barely more than half full for the visit of Sevilla? With Real having pulled off a late comeback to win in A Coruña earlier on Saturday night and the Liga clásico at the Bernabéu coming up next, Barça’s lead suddenly felt a little less secure. But more than a question of points, it was the method that gave greater cause for concern.
After last week’s 2-0 defeat in Milan, when the specter of a sturdy defensive rival frustrating Barça’s princely possession game again rose against the team’s European ambitions — now it was Sevilla showing great motivation under coach Unai Emery. Not only did the visitor’s closed defensive ranks render sterile the home team’s overwhelming share of the ball, but Sevilla grabbed a lead just before the break. As in Italy, the bounce seemed again to be going against Barcelona, as Alberto Botía applied a deft head to an elaborately worked free kick.
But, in fairness, neither goalkeeper had been greatly troubled up until that moment.
A Barcelona line-up with some unusual starters such as Alex Song and Martín Montoya could only follow the script as laid down by the club’s midfield maestros, of whom only Andrés Iniesta was on the field. And it was a flash of more direct play which brought Barça level, when Dani Alves centered for David Villa to head home only his seventh league goal of a frustrating season after missing much of the last campaign with a broken leg.
We have always said Villa is a very important player for us"
Villa has started only nine games in the main domestic competition since Tito Vilanova took over from Pep Guardiola as coach last summer. With Vilanova currently absent from the bench while he undergoes cancer treatment, his assistant Jordi Roura took the opportunity to offer encouragement to the forward. “We have always said he is a very important player for us, with his ability to score goals. [...] If he continues to progress in physical terms, he will be able to help us in the decisive part of the season.”
Shortly after Villa’s icebreaker, Leo Messi kept his incredible scoring run of 15 Liga games going with a smartly worked give-and-get move with Cristian Tello. Xavi and Sergio Busquets, rested before this week’s double dose of Real Madrid starting with Tuesday’s King Cup semifinal decider at Camp Nou, were brought on to keep things tidy and the score stayed at 2-1.
Sevilla, notably Álvaro Negredo, had chances, and Emery will feel that his team has what it takes to move from mid-table to challenge for European berths.
For Deportivo La Coruña, time is running out, however, the bottom club still nine points from the nearest team above the relegation zone after Real overturned a 1-0 deficit in Riazor. On a night for veterans, 37-year-old Juan Carlos Valerón was brought back into the Deportivo team by the club’s third coach of the season, Fernando Vázquez. The Canarian had a hand in Riki’s first-half goal, and as the hour-mark approached José Mourinho was forced to bring a rare rest for Cristiano Ronaldo to an end. He did not score, but his presence gave Madrid more menace; Kaká, another senior player coming back to form, and Gonzalo Higuaín sealing Deportivo’s fate.
Just two points ahead of Deportivo, Mallorca also capitulated at home as Getafe scored three times in the last 20 minutes to win 1-3. Comeback victories set up by Villa and Kaká as Valerón tries to fire Deportivo