How did they lose this? 0-1 up thanks to 'dinho getting a head a Zambrotta cross after fourteen minutes. On twenty eight minutes Aitor Ocio was sent off for a professional foul on 'dinho and the blaugrana were awarded a penalty. Stepping up to take the kick himself, 'dinho's shot was saved by the legs of Andres Palop and the chance to bury Sevilla was gone. For the majority of the first half Sevilla were useless, offering absolutely nothing going forward, Kanoute (the new Diego Forlan - Brian Scanlan © 2007) fouling everyone in sight and looking more like West Ham Freddie than the new Andalucian model and lacking bite in midfield. Dani Alves was the only player who looked like doing anything. And yet again Barcelona failed to convert their complete dominance into a second gol, and ala the Liverpool game they let Sevilla in, with Kerzhakov turning Marquez and shooting past Valdes to tie the match just before half time. Despite their numerical advantage, 1-1 was hardly a disaster. Sevilla were sluggish and rarely threatened. It merely seemed that Barcelona would have to bide their time, continue to punt the diagonal ball down the right for Giuly and Zambrotta to run on to, keep control of midfield and boot Alves up in the air. How things done changed in the second half.
Without Eto'o the attack again lacked a focal point and Sevilla were happy for the blaugrana to pass the ball around amongst themselves only to balls it up 1nce they got close to the eighteen yard box. Sevilla's second gol was a thanks to some bloody awful golkeeping from Valdes. Alves freekick was dead centre and Victor just flapped at it was it went in. About a minute later Barça had the stuffing knocked out of them completely when Giuly was sent off for pretty much no reason at all. He and Alves (gets around doesn't he?) had a very slight tussle off the ball, there were no arms raised, no shoving, they were just standing beside each other. Alves got a yellow for his part in the non-incident (no I don't know why either) and Giuly walked off looking utterly bemused. The club will surely appeal.
After that it all fell apart. Eto'o and Saviola came on to little effect, Zambrotta was sent off for collecting two yellows in the space of a minute (the first one was justified, the second was a joke, but he should know better). Despite all the sendings off it was a dirty game at all. Kanoute ought to have been booked for persistent fouling but he played rubbish so we'll let him off. Barcelona didn't roll over but they didn't create any guilt edged chances either while Sevilla missed two sitters at the other end. It finished 2-1. Sevilla are now top by a point.
Down the straight
So where to from here? Looking the run ins (linked) for Sevilla, Barcelona and Valencia (I'm leaving Madrid out of this because I really can't see them winning the title, they're just not good enough), none of them have it particularly tough. FCB hardest games are against Madrid next Saturday, away to Saragossa in mid-April and away to Atletico in May. The rest are all against teams outside the top six. Sevilla are much the same, away to Real and Valencia and at home to Saragossa. Aside from that it's pretty straight forward. The question is of course whether they have the bottle. It's hard to say on last night's evidence, they didn't look great at all but they got it done. Valencia have Sevilla, Saragossa at home and are away to Real (any of this sound familiar?). Valencia though are more likely to drop points against the weaker sides, they laboured to a 1-0 win over Celta last night and needed Santi to make a great save in the final minute to get the three points.
I'm still very optimistic but Barcelona have faced two of the top four sides in the last two weeks and lost to both of them. Hardly the form of champions. El Classico on Saturday will be crucial. Not to sound defeatist but there's a fair chance that Liverpool will have dumped them out of the European Cup at that stage so they'll need to get their heads straight. Sevilla have 'nastic, the worst team in the league at home next weekend so failure to win would see them open up a three or four point gap. Los Che are in Navarra to play Osasuna. Between now and then there's the small matter of pulling it out of the fire at Anfield. This is a big week and it's gotten off the worse possible start.
Before I go a quick mention of the Lillian Thuram interview in today's Observer Sport Monthly. Worth a look.