Messi nets 2, Barca fights back 4-1 at Sevilla
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi scored two goals and set up another to lead Barcelona to a 4-1 comeback victory at Sevilla on Sunday, moving the defending champions into a three-way tie for the Spanish league lead.
Despite Barcelona showing the same vulnerability in defense, Messi’s best performance since returning from a lengthy injury layoff ensured that his side bounced back from a defeat by Valencia in the previous round. Barcelona is now level with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the top of the standings after 23 rounds.
Sevilla dominated the first half hour on the Sanchez Pizjuan’s water-logged pitch and went ahead through Alberto Moreno’s 15th-minute goal.
But as the rain showers turned into a downpour, Messi supplied a free kick for Alexis Sanchez to equalize in the 34th before the Argentina forward blasted in his first goal in open league play since Sept. 28, before his injury.
With Sevilla surging forward after halftime, Messi stepped up once more to score from Andres Iniesta’s pass in the 56th. Substitute Cesc Fabregas capped the win with Barcelona’s fourth goal two minutes from time.
“Leo always shows up,” Iniesta said. “He is one of those few players who can change a game if you give him a few meters, and he almost always does so.”
Last week, Messi converted a penalty in the loss to Valencia, but otherwise he hadn’t scored in the league since returning in January after being sidelined for two months with a left hamstring tear. Messi’s double on Sunday gave him 11 league goals this season despite his extended absence. Alexis leads the team with 14.
Elsewhere, Osasuna beat Getafe 2-0 at home to move four points clear of the relegation zone.
Real Sociedad was held 0-0 at its Anoeta Stadium by Levante and the inspired form of goalkeeper Keylor Navas, while substitute Humberto Osorio scored twice as Valladolid came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Elche.
Sevilla’s players must have wondered how they went into halftime losing 2-1 after bossing the first half on a wet pitch that slowed the ball but not the frenetic pace.
Unai Emery’s side only allowed Barcelona to create two clear scoring chances, and both ended in goals, while the hosts provoked havoc in Barcelona’s box throughout.
“It hurts of course because we had done a good job,” Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “But when you play against the best they punish you for any mistakes you make.”
Rakitic helped to open the scoring by steering a team buildup more similar to Barcelona’s passing prowess than Sevilla’s counterattacking style. He combined with two players inside Barcelona’s area before the ball reached Moreno for a shot that flew off Marc Bartra and into the net.
Sevilla pressed its advantage and every corner and free kick inspired panic in Barcelona’s defense. Carlos Bacca headed Rakitic’s free kick off the upright in the 20th, and Bacca set up Rakitic in the 29th only to see him stroke the ball wide.
Alexis scored against the flow of play when he used the back of his neck to glance Messi’s free kick beyond goalkeeper Antonio “Beto” Bastos - while appearing to be in an offside position.
Messi had been kept quiet until he broke loose in midfield and passed wide for Pedro Rodriguez, who returned the ball for the Argentine to strike a left-footed shot into far corner the net.
After halftime, the game opened up and both sides exchanged scoring opportunities.
But after Sevilla’s Victor Machin had squandered a one-on-one and Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes saved back-to-back shots from Bacca and Kevin Gameiro, it was Messi who again showed that he has recovered his form.
Messi controlled Iniesta’s crisp pass with one touch while at full trot and unleashed another left-footed effort that skipped off the soggy turf before bouncing in off the post.
“Those who say something negative about Messi risk challenging his pride,” Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said. “The next rival up pays the price, like today.”
Fabregas scored from close range after Alexis provided the pass, with Sevilla’s defense in tatters.
Barcelona’s veteran defender Carles Puyol was dropped from the squad early in the day due to back pain.