Spanish football learned a valuable lesson in Monaco last night as Sevilla gave a masterclass in tactical discipline that taught the rest of La Liga that Barcelona can be beaten after all.
Seville President Jose Maria Del Nido had remarked that the match up between the two sides was like ‘David and Goliath’and even the bookmakers agreed, offering odds of 6/1 on a victory for the Andalucians. Anyone who has ever visited Seville during Semana Santa will know that they can be a fervently religious bunch and it seems that their team clearly know their old testament , duly obliging in bringing Catalan Goliath crashing down to earth.
As predicted in our match preview, Juande Ramos had a blueprint for beating Barcelona and he would have been inspired by Espanyol’s first half performance in the Spanish Supercup 1st leg last Friday. The aim was to close down Barcelona in midfield, deny their midfield the opportunity to control the game and starve Barcelona’s forward line of supply. It worked.
Poulsen and Renato, the two players given the task of shadowing Deco and Xavi, followed Juande Ramos’ orders to the letter and denied either of the Barcelona playmakers a moment to dwell on the ball, pick a pass and orchestrate the game. Poulsen in particular was outstanding and controlled the game in such a way that marks him out as a very astute acquisition this summer whilst Renato alongside him finally lived up to the reputation of the player signed two years ago.
Deco and Xavi in particular looked lost in midfield, unable to dominate the game in the way they have whenever paired together in pre-season. With Barcelona’s chief conductors in midfield nullified, Motta and Puyol found themselves in possession and neither of them offer the same level of creativity.
In attack, Kanoute and Adriano were a constant aerial threat and Marquez and Puyol never looked comfortable as Navas and the excellent Daniel Alves were able to maintain a constant supply of deliveries from the right flank.
Barcelona never looked dangerous after Renato scored the opener on 7 minutes, reacting to a parried ball from Valdes after a shot from Fabiano. The constant aerial menace finally paid off for Seville when Kanoute scored the second just before half time after Valdes once again failed to punch the ball clear of the area.
In the second half Seville stepped up the pressure on Barcelona with the addition of Marti and Maresca who applied even more physical pressure on a now very weary looking Barcelona. The beleaguered Xavi was finally taken off and replaced by Iniesta. Gudjohnsen replaced Motta to offer more options in attack. In spite of an increase in possession, Barcelona never really dominated and one sensed that a goal was never going to come. Maresca’s 89th minute penalty sealed the match for Seville and a bewildered and weary looking Barcelona were left to muse over what was left of their ‘seven trophy’ claims.
Juande Ramos has shown how Barcelona can be beaten and will take heart from his team’s performance, as will the rest of La Liga.
Rijkaard and Barcelona can feel disappointed, but the game comes as wake up call and should rule out any complacency when the team travels to Celta Vigo on Monday. It also highlights the folly of playing five games in 8 days on the eve of a 9 month domestic campaign and on the back of a 26,000 mile promotional tour and a World cup.
This was anything but a meaningless friendly and lessons will have been learned all round.
Goals - Renato 7 mins, Kanoute 44, Maresca 89.
Man of the Match - Poulson