A clay-footed Barça are on the ropes in the Copa (2-0)

Calculative Sevilla twice overcame a defence full of injuries in semi-final first leg

3 min
Koundé, beating Umtiti to the play for Sevilla's first goal

Special envoy in SevilleBarça have feet of clay. Ronald Koeman's team is on the ropes in the Copa del Rey, the tournament in which it had placed so many hopes, forced to dust off the old manuals of comebacks in the stadium if it wants to be in the final. Without doing anything out of the ordinary, Sevilla complicated the tie by taking advantage of the defensive shortcomings of a Barça side that would have deserved better luck. But their attacks were no match for the defence of Julen Lopetegui's team, who planned the match as if it were an Excel spreadsheet, with the calculator, dosing the attacks and prioritising not conceding goals. It worked out well for the Basque coach (2-0).

Looking at the defence, taken with a pinch of salt, Koeman was surely tempted to approach the game as if it were an act of survival; trying to keep the ball well away from Ter Stegen for most of the game, without much happening. But glancing at the strikers, with Messi and Pedri looking mischievous, the Dutch coach must have been tempted to be braver. After all, if you score an away goal in a play-off, you get double the prize. Nor did Lopetegui have it easy. His body was asking him to expose the Catalan defensive line. But his head told him it was important not to concede any goals at home. And, in the end, the match had a bit of everything, different phases and scenarios. Now it was Sevilla, a team with very good footballing taste, now it was Barça, who claimed a penalty in the second half. And just as Lopetegui wanted, his Sevilla conceded no goals. Barça, on the other hand, were left with nothing, only to concede 2-0 when it looked like they would return to the Camp Nou alive. And all with just a few days to go before they host PSG.

For many years, the barcelonistas looked at the lineup of the rival without detecting any player with enough level to be a starter at Barça. Memories of the past. Between the departures and poor sporting planning, the defense that came out to play in the Sanchez Pizjuan, with Mingueza and Umtiti as central defenders, and Junior Firpo on one side, caused some dismay. Instead, Sevilla came out with a pair of centre-backs, Koundé and Diego Carlos, destined to be sold to bigger clubs in the next few years for big money. And it was Koundé, discovered by Monchi at Girondins de Bordeaux, who beat Barça in the first half. After stealing the ball from Griezmann, he outwitted Busquets and then, in a cruel gesture of quality, embarrassed Umtiti. His shot could not be stopped by Ter Stegen. And Koundé was mortifying the azulgrana defense with his incorporations in attack, punctual as a clock. Every five minutes, he was encouraged to generate superiorities, disturbing a Barça that suffered in defense but bit in attack. In fact, Messi had the 0-1 close, but for once he was unable to beat one of the clubs he has most often left on the wrong side of the net. As fate would have it, it was Koundé, a defender, who was responsible for exposing the last line of defence.

After living on the edge in Cornellà, Vallecas and Granada, jumping into the void without a net in single-leg ties, the Sánchez Pizjuán duel was a tactical battle that had not quite exploded. Sevilla were reluctant to put Umtiti and a very serious Mingueza on trial. Barça were looking for it, but without losing their sanity, especially after seeing En-Nesyri make it 2-0 in an action in which Umtiti showed the coolness he lacked against Koundé. The game would not be decided by checkmate. It was all about winning pawns. Only Messi and a Dembélé incapable of taking it easy, because he was born to run, tried to break the dynamic of the game. Griezmann, on the other hand, was not there. 

Rakitic's coup de grace

However, as the game wore on, Sevilla seemed to take the result for granted, and closed in on their area, so that they gave up a few yards to the front that were a godsend for Messi and co. Once again, Alba appeared on the back line. And De Jong was moving around the front, sniffing for an open door to go on one of his adventures. Pedri, for once, was disappearing, while Koeman did not dare to make offensive changes. Sevilla, in fact, seemed to give up on getting a better result. Once the Catalan Joan Jordán tired, Sevilla seemed unwilling to aspire to finish the tie at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Instead of taking heart from seeing Barca's defensive losses, they feared Messi. But it was a trap. Just when it looked like Koundé's goal would be the only one to hit the back of the net, Barça crashed into reality. With this defence, you can't go far. And it was Rakitic, the former player on duty, who brought Sevilla closer to the final with the second goal. The Croatian did not celebrate. And Barça still have the epic. They have the return, when they will have recovered their strength, especially in defence. The tie is not over yet. With Messi, anything is possible.