Tbilisi was the place to be in last night as Barcelona narrowly overcame a spirited Sevilla side 5-4 in the UEFA Super Cup, even despite going 4-1 ahead following a Lionel Messi brace and goals from Rafinha and Luis Suarez.
Sevilla, to their credit, made for gutsy opponents in a match that Barcelona were widely expected to comfortably win, and ran Luis Enrique's side right to the very last, with a goal in the second half of extra time from Pedro the decider.
And predictably, the game highlighted several talking points:
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1. Lionel Messi remains the key to Barcelona
The Argentine captain was the focal point Barcelona's attacks as the little magician troubled the Sevilla defence from the outset. He scored two majestic free kicks to put his team ahead after countryman Ever Banega put Sevilla ahead.
Messi disappeared from the game for a little while in the second half but came into life when it mattered most, chasing up a deflection from his own free kick and striking a volley on goal which, whilst parried by Beto, was pounced upon by Pedro and finished with aplomb.
2. Sevilla won our hearts
Having trailed 3-1 at half-time, and then 4-1 soon after the break, Sevilla seemed all-but dead and buried. However, such was the spirit and determination of Unai Emery's side that Sevilla slowly creeped their way back into the game and eventually levelled the tie at 4-4, sending the game to extra time.
A fine team move resulting in a finish from Jose Antonio Reyes sparked the comeback with Kevin Gameiro then scoring from the spot following Jeremy Matheiu's foul, further reducing the deficit. The emphatic comeback was rounded off when, nine minutes from time, Ciro Immobile took advantage of slack defending from Marc Bartra and set up Yevhen Konoplyanka for a simple tap-in.
Their never say die attitude was admirable, though they will ultimately have rued the two missed clear-cut chances deep in the second half of extra-time that allowed the Catalan giants to claim the Super Cup trophy. Barcelona might have won the match and the cup, but Sevilla won our hearts.
3. Neymar was thoroughly missed
Rafinha was a surprise starter in the match in place of the Brazil captain who is down with mumps, especially given Pedro's availability and natural position being on the wing, though his uncertain future undoubtedly played a part.
Although Rafinha did score a goal and carved various other chances for himself throughout the game, his performance on the pitch was not entirely convincing. He combined well with both Suarez and Messi and made some good runs, but ultimately, he's no Neymar, whose exceptional pace, vision and technique would have proven a far greater challenge for Sevilla's defence.
The magic of the MSN trio was undoubtedly missing last night, even despite their five goals scored.
4. Barcelona's shaky defence remains a problem
Four goals conceded suggests that, while their attack force is phenomenal, there is still much to be improved in Barcelona's defence. Barring the first goal, all others were a result of lacklustre defending from the Spanish and European champions.
Jeremy Mathieu in particular had a torrid time at the back. He was at fault for not only allowing Reyes to slip away from him for the second goal, but also gave away the penalty which gave Sevilla genuine hope and momentum that they could yet make a fight of the game.
Sevilla continued to trouble Barcelona's defence throughout and came close to snatching both an equaliser and winner in extra time but were unable to take their chances. Enrique will be delighted to have won in the end, but will be fully aware of the defensive deficiencies that could hinder their chances of achieving the sextuple and maintaining their dominance in Europe.
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