Luis Suarez equalised in the latter stages before Messi’s last-gasp leveller broke the hosts’ hearts
Lionel Messi came off the bench to inspire Barcelona to come from two goals behind against Sevilla and preserve their unbeaten record with a specular late equaliser.
Franco Vazquez and Luis Muriel put Sevilla two goals up against the Spanish league leaders, threatening to break their unbeaten run of 36 games.
Vazquez broke the deadlock when he was left all alone by the Barcelona defence in the 36th minute, finishing from Joaquin Correa’s cutback.
Luis Muriel’s deflected effort beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen five minutes after the interval as the striker doubled Sevilla’s lead.
Messi came on in the 58th minute as Barcelona tried to fight their way back in to the game and Sevilla missed various chances before Suarez acrobatically fired home at the back post in the 88th minute.
Then in the 89th Messi fired home from distance to send Barcelona 12 points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.
Here are the five key talking points…
1. Messi rises from the bench
Fittingly on Easter weekend, football’s ‘god’ rose from a deep, dark place known as the bench. Messi has not spent a lot of time there in his career.
After missing Spain’s two friendlies with muscular fatigue, including swerving the 6-1 humiliation meted out by Spain in Madrid, Messi was kept in reserve by Ernesto Valverde.
Part of that, speculated Spanish media, was to keep Argentina happy, as Messi’s homeland would have been furious if he was suddenly fit to play.
But Valverde also thought, with good reason, that his team could win in Seville without Messi, whom he could keep in cotton wool to face Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The coach changed his mind, after Sevilla took Barcelona to pieces. On came Messi, entering the fray in the 58th minute.
Instantly he had an impact, with a cross for Suarez hacked away by the desperate defence with the Uruguayan poised to strike.
That was Sevilla’s warning, but they wasted various chances to stretch their lead before the dramatic finale, with Messi slamming home a last gasp equaliser.
2. Still not beaten, somehow
Barcelona are closing in on La Liga’s unbeaten record of 38 consecutive games, set by Real Sociedad.
Coming into this clash, they had 36 league matches without defeat and for all the world it seemed that was where their run would end.
Sevilla put in a gutsy, determined showing and with Barcelona’s streak tumbling, Europe’s giants were poised raise a glass to the victors.
A win over Barcelona was something that would please Barcelona’s prospective Champions League opponents, first of all Roma.
But Barcelona’s late comeback shows that they can never be counted out and if anything, despite this poor performance, are even more dangerous than first thought.
3. A defensive aberration
Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona side has been characterised by their miserly defending, letting in 13 in 29 league games before this.
The team is not set up to purely defend but they are far more robust at the back than they were under Luis Enrique, in part due to the presence of an extra midfielder to do more running and protect the back line.
However with Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets injured, Valverde reverted to a 4-3-3 and it led to an open game.
Sevilla wasted various chances before they eventually broke the deadlock, with Franco Vazquez pouncing to strike in the 36th minute.
Confusion between Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Paulinho left nobody making El Mudo (the mute), who bundled an effort past the exposed Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Vazquez could not believe his luck and Valverde could not believe his eyes.
It was amateur, schoolboy defending, and a sight we have become thoroughly unaccustomed to seeing this season in the heart of the Barcelona defence.
The second deflected in off Umtiti and Sevilla should have made it three but Pique scrambled the ball off the line and Vazquez fired wide with Ter Stegen stranded.
4. United blinding Umtiti
All the news in Barcelona this week has surrounded Samuel Umtiti’s contract talks with the club stalling.
According to Sport, Jose Mourinho has personally phoned the French defender to offer him a deal with Manchester United, on a contract worth nine million euros a season – with the Red Devils willing to pay his 60 million euro release clause.
That is what Umtiti is asking from Barcelona, something that would put him on the same salary level as Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez, which Barcelona think is too much too soon, despite his importance to the side.
It could just be an unfortunate coincidence, but players are sensitive machines and the slightest change in their calibration can lead to different results on the pitch.
Amid the noise in the media, Umtiti made one of the worst mistakes of his Barcelona career to let in Vazquez for the opening goal, before remonstrating with Pique in the aftermath.
That speaks, in a way, to how well Umtiti has done since joining from Lyon and it’s clear that staying at Barcelona would be the best option for both him and the club. His agent is playing hardball, but if the Frenchman’s game is being affected by the situation, it could weaken his stance.
5. Montella’s Sevilla rollercoaster
Sevilla have lurched from awful to amazing under Montella, and back again. Under the Italian they have been anything but predictable.
Before this match they had just two wins in their last seven home league games, with the Pizjuan, formerly a fortress, looking more like a bouncy castle for visiting teams.
Atletico Madrid came here and hit five, while Valencia scored an easy 2-0 win here earlier in March, which more or less ended any remaining Sevilla hopes of finishing in the top four.
Fifth in the table, Sevilla are actually battling to stay in a Europa League position with Girona and Real Betis in the hunt.
But along with a lot of poor results, like the 2-1 defeat by Leganes before the international break, Montella has brought glory to the Pizjuan.
Knocking out Manchester United in the Champions League was one of the most glorious achievements in the club’s history. And, the final three minutes aside, this game is another feather in the club’s cap and the perfect way to warm up for the visit of Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
It was also a good dress rehearsal for the Copa del Rey final clash with Barcelona later in April… they just need to work on the final act.