Barcelona show steel after Messi’s injury blow in strong start to key week

It would have been no surprise if Barcelona wilted.

Given the fragility of their defence in recent weeks and the nine points dropped from the last 12 available, Lionel Messi’s first-half injury was the last thing the team needed. Especially at the start of a run of three matches which could define their season.

But instead of letting their heads drop, Ernesto Valverde’s men arrested a run of four league games without a win to romp to a 4-2 triumph against Sevilla on Saturday night at Camp Nou..

Messi writhed in agony on the pristine surface, having damaged his right arm. Barcelona limped on for a few minutes with 10 men before doctor Daniel Florit made the signal and Ousmane Dembele came on to replace him.

It was Florit’s first match with the Barcelona first team, having transferred over from the club’s basketball section – what a way to begin.

Barcelona were 2-0 up at the time, the first goal created by Messi for Philippe Coutinho and the second curled home by the Argentine maestro, and against opponents as potent as Sevilla, the stage was set for the champions to collapse.

It has been a gripping Liga season, with any team capable of beating any other, as Barcelona and Madrid have found out. Sevilla, who sat top of the table until Friday night when Alaves overtook them, had a taste and wanted more.

But Barcelona sit top, after they pulled their socks up and swept past Sevilla to the delight of a nervous Camp Nou, who did not know how the team would respond to Messi’s injury.

Lionel Messi hurt Barcelona Sevilla

For the most part it was a clever, cool reaction, and with the No 10  ruled out for the Champions League clash with Inter Milan on Wednesday and Sunday’s Clasico against Real Madrid, they must find this performance again.

Messi is so crucial to the Valverde system, perhaps more crucial than he has been in any other Barcelona side he has played in, that without him it could have fallen to pieces.

Luis Suarez was one of the players who refused to let that happen. The Uruguayan, who worked with physiotherapists during the international break on a long-running knee problem, produced his best performance of the season to drive Barcelona on.

Luis Suarez Barcelona Sevilla La Liga 20102018

Fighting and scrapping with his usual vigour, Suarez never let Sevilla get on the front foot, keeping Barcelona pressing high in attack.

It was his determined run onto a through ball that forced Sevilla goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik to bring him down, and Suarez drove home the penalty to put Barcelona three goals up.

The defence collapsed at the end, letting in two goals which will frustrate Valverde, but for well over an hour, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet showed their partnership can work.

Perhaps the goals netted by Pablo Sarabia and Luis Muriel can be chalked up to minds drifting towards the challenges ahead.

Because Messi or no Messi, this is the most important week of Barcelona’s season so far and one which could have a big impact on how the rest of it unfolds.

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Kovac relieved by timely Bayern victory

Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac’s relief was palpable after his side’s four-game winless run was ended with a 3-1 Bundesliga win over Wolfsburg.

Robert Lewandowski scored twice and set up the other for James Rodriguez as the Bavarians, who had Arjen Robben sent off, claimed a much-needed triumph.

After Wout Weghorst had halved the deficit, the key third goal came from Colombian Rodriguez, a player Kovac has reportedly endured a troubled relationship with.

That foru-game streak had seen Kovac, who arrived from Eintracht Frankfurt at the end of last season, come under criticism, with Bayern’s hierarchy hitting out at the “disrespectful” German press in an extraordinary news conference on Friday.

And while Kovac, whose side stay four points behind Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund who won 4-0 at Stuttgart, refused to be drawn on the comments made by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness, he did reveal his relief at securing the points.

“I’m responsible for the sport, that means for the football,” Kovac said. “I’m responsible for the team and not for anything else.

“I said before, that we only got two points out of the last four games.

“Twelve were possible and that’s not our requirement. We didn’t want that and that’s just not our standard. The result was very important. 

“The team had pressure today and the staff as well, if not the whole club. 

“I can tell you something about systems or about the game, but nothing else.”

Bayern’s attention will now switch to a Champions League trip to AEK Athens, before they return to domestic action against Mainz next weekend.

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Barcelona 4 Sevilla 2: Messi injured but champions go top

Lionel Messi was substituted with an arm injury that makes him a doubt for next weekend’s Clasico but the Barcelona captain inspired a 4-2 home win against Sevilla to send his side top of LaLiga.

Philippe Coutinho scored from Messi’s pass in the second minute to get Barca off to a flying start at Camp Nou on Saturday and the Argentina superstar soon doubled the lead.

But Messi had to be substituted having hurt his right arm in an awkward fall and he could miss Wednesday’s Champions League game against Inter, as well as next Sunday’s showdown with rivals Real Madrid.

Luis Suarez’s second-half penalty and a late strike from Ivan Rakitic secured the points despite consolations from Pablo Sarabia and Luis Muriel, Ernesto Valverde’s men moving into first place in the table, with Sevilla third after their four-game winning streak ended.

Despite being on a run of one win in five in all competitions, Barca led inside two minutes with Coutinho bending home a sensational first-time strike to complete a wonderful team move involving Messi and Suarez.

Guilherme Arana struck the post but Messi scored a typically brilliant second for his side in the 12th minute, running on to a superb Suarez pass and cutting inside off the right flank to find the bottom-left corner from 20 yards to record his 25th goal against Sevilla.

Messi, though, was then replaced by Ousmane Dembele after landing heavily on his right arm, Barca’s treatment team initially patching him up but finding he could not continue.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen twice produced remarkable double saves, then Suarez sealed victory when he sent Tomas Vaclik the wrong way from the penalty spot after he was felled by the goalkeeper.

Sarabia’s 79th-minute reply took a vital deflection off former Sevilla defender Clement Lenglet to ruin Ter Stegen’s clean sheet, the Germany goalkeeper then making a second double save.

Rakitic added a late fourth with a controlled volley against his old club but Sevilla still had the final say, Muriel bending home a fine finish in added time.

Despite a welcome win, Barcelona will be concerned about Messi’s injury ahead of next weekend’s Clasico.

What does it mean: Messi major concern

Getting back to winning ways will be a huge relief for Valverde, but Messi’s injury gives him another headache. Barca are arguably more reliant on their talisman than ever before and if he is out for any serious length of time, their title aspirations will be severely dented.

Ter Stegen heroics save Barca

A wonderful double save from Ter Stegen was a vital moment for Barca, who then quickly extended their lead from the penalty spot after Suarez was felled. The first save from Andre Silva’s header was brilliant but blocking the rebound from Franco Vazquez was arguably even better. Incredibly, Ter Stegen made another amazing double save in the closing stages to keep out Muriel and Sarabia.

Ben Yedder toothless for visitors

Behind Messi and level with team-mate Sarabia, Wissam Ben Yedder was among LaLiga’s top scorers this term with nine in all competitions, but the striker had little involvement. Sevilla – now winless in 16 games at Camp Nou – were on the back foot from the off, however, blunting his impact.

What’s next?

European action for both sides this week with Barca hosting Inter in the Champions League on Wednesday and Sevilla welcoming Akhisarspor in the Europa League a day later. On Sunday it’s Huesca at home for Sevilla, while Barca will hope Messi is fit to face Madrid in the Clasico.

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Liverpool star Salah never worried by goal drought

Mohamed Salah insists he never panicked during his four-match scoreless streak that ended with the winner in Liverpool’s 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium.

The Egypt international clinically tucked home midway through the first half on Saturday to ensure the Reds again moved level on points with Premier League title rivals Manchester City.

The tidy finish from Xherdan Shaqiri’s incisive pass was the former Chelsea forward’s 50th goal in English football.

While pleased to reach the milestone, the 26-year-old took more pride in giving Liverpool their first win in five outings.

“It’s a good feeling but the most important thing is to help the team get the result and now we are on track,” Salah told BT Sport.

“I’m not worried [when I don’t score]. The most important thing is the team, so as long as I help them get the result I’m not worried.

“We had four or five players starting in the team for the first time this season in the Premier League. All of us are at the same level so everyone has to fight [for places].

“It was a tough game but in the end we got the three points, the most important thing. We had to fight but we knew that.”

Adam Lallana joined Salah in a front three that was missing the injured Sadio Mane and only featured Roberto Firmino for a brief cameo off the bench.

The England international completed 69 minutes on his return from a groin injury and cited the club’s impressive depth as essential to their title ambitions.

“It’s a long season,” Lallana said. “It’s only a few weeks ago I was thinking about where my next game was coming from even when I’m back fit.

“Throughout the course of the season everyone is going to have to contribute if you want to achieve something special.”

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