Competition
  • Europa League

Without Messi, Barcelona really aren't much to write home about

It's a sad day for the Copa if even Barcelona, who win it almost every year, turn their backs on it. In Seville last night, Ernesto Valverde raised eyebrows by picking an utter rabble of a line-up, most notably including the incomprehensible signing Kevin-Prince Boateng in a side stuffed with reserves (I'd almost forgotten Malcom was still alive) that had right-back Nelson Semedo playing on the left and was characterised by an air of apathy that left my fellow radio pundit Luis Suárez - the Spanish Ballon d'Or winner, not his Uruguayan namesake - driven to distraction. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. At 1-0 down, Valverde tried to sort out the mess by throwing on Philippe Coutinho and the other Luis Suárez for Malcom and Boateng, but it had little effect, and they soon found themselves two behind.

Sevilla wanted it more and now have dream first-leg lead

Barça came up against a Sevilla side who, apart from simply wanting it that bit more, showed real squad depth. When they were in their best spell of the game, they were hit by muscle injuries to the two men who had stood out for them, Pablo Sarabia and Jesús Navas - and even then their performance wasn't affected. Quincy Promes, who is not a regular, came on and shone. André Silva was then introduced late on and also did well, as Wissam Ben Yedder, who'd been threatening to score all night, finally got his goal and established a 2-0 advantage. In any two-legged tie, that's a dream scoreline to take into an away return: if the Andalusians find the net just once at the Camp Nou, they'll leave Barça needing at least four. So they can feel highly optimistic about their chances of progressing.

Sevilla's players celebrate Pablo Sarabia's opener in their 2-0 Copa win over Barcelona.

How will Europe-focused Barcelona approach the return now?

Perhaps the most striking thing about last night's first leg was Barcelona's decision not to even take Lionel Messi. It's only natural to want to rest him; after all, he isn't getting any younger. But what we saw against Leganés on Sunday, when he came off the bench with half an hour to go and guided the team to victory, made much more sense. That wasn't an option yesterday. Leaving him out altogether was rash. It seems that not only the Argentine, but Barça as a whole, are focused on "that beautiful, sought-after trophy", as the player himself put it at the beginning of the season: the Champions League. The big question now is whether the Blaugrana will put everything they have into a second-leg comeback, or seek to turn the tie around while still trying to keep legs fresh for what's to come.