La Liga: Lionel Messi’s heroics guide FC Barcelona to 3-0 win over Sevilla FC
Lionel Messi was inspirational upon his return from suspension as Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win over Sevilla to move back above Real Madrid at La Liga’s summit for a few hours at least.
The champions’ talisman missed the 4-1 defeat of Granada last time out due to an accumulation of yellow cards, but more than made up for lost time in Wednesday’s resounding success at Camp Nou with a brace and an assist.
Messi was instrumental as Barca assumed complete control with a devastating eight-minute spell midway through the first half, setting up the opener for Luis Suarez with a trademark darting run down the right before netting twice himself.
Perhaps with their hectic April schedule in mind, there was a noticeable let-up in intensity from Barca in the second period, but there was never any danger of a Sevilla comeback as their miserable record against the Catalan giants was extended to one win from their last 20 meetings.
The win sends Barca perhaps only momentarily back to the top of the table, one point above Madrid, who travel to struggling Leganes later on Wednesday.
It was another damaging defeat for Sevilla, who had Vitolo sent off in stoppage time for a second bookable offence and are now three points behind Atletico Madrid in the race for the third and final automatic Champions League qualification berth.
Sevilla’s six-match winless run in all competitions is their worst under Jorge Sampaoli and they almost found themselves behind within four minutes as Messi crashed a shot against the underside of the crossbar from 20 yards with Sergio Rico motionless.
But Sevilla seemed undeterred by Barca’s rapid start and wasted a glorious chance as Steven N’Zonzi found himself one-on-one with Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who saved with his legs.
Another gilt-edged opening went begging as Vitolo sent a free header over from six yards and the visitors paid the price for that miss a minute later.
Messi drove to the right byline and the cut the ball back for Suarez, who shrugged off Gabriel Mercado before volleying an overhead kick beyond Rico from close range.
Three minutes later the lead was doubled as Ivan Rakitic, Neymar and Suarez combined to tee up Messi to sweep home with his right foot.
If the second was the result of incisive team work, Barca’s third was a gift as Sevilla twice failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to Messi to lash a left-footed volley into the net.
After the interval Suarez robbed Rico and fed Messi, whose chip was saved by the retreating goalkeeper, but Sampaoli’s men continued to press forward as substitute Pablo Sarabia twice saw thumping drives saved by Ter Stegen.
Luis Enrique introduced Paco Alcacer in place of Suarez and he ought to have done better than firing straight at Rico when clean through in the 78th minute.
The last act of the game summed up Sevilla’s frustrations as Vitolo received a second yellow card for a petulant kick out at Neymar as Barca saw out a comfortable success.
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