Tue, Oct 09, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Sevilla surprise leaders after Barcelona are held

Reuters, VALENCIA, Spain

Valencia’s Carlos Soler, left, tackles Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in their La Liga match at the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Sevilla on Sunday became the surprise leaders of La Liga after beating visiting RC Celta de Vigo 2-1, while champions Barcelona drew 1-1 at Valencia thanks to another Lionel Messi strike, but are still without a victory in their past four league games.

Atletico Madrid joined Barca on 15 points after scraping a 1-0 win at home to Real Betis Balompie with a late strike from substitute Angel Correa to climb above Real Madrid into third place in a highly competitive campaign with the top six separated by two points.

The Catalans fell behind in the second minute at a bouncing Mestalla after dreadful defending from a corner allowed defender Ezequiel Garay to stab home from close range.

Barca continued to leak chances, but got a foothold in the game thanks to a superb strike in the 23rd minute from Messi, who has been in inspired form and delivered a performance for the ages against Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday last week.

However, they failed to further breach a superbly organized Valencia, racking up a run of three draws and a defeat in four league games, their longest stretch without a win since 2016.

“This season it feels like we have to come back in every game and we are swimming against the current, but we know that this is going to change,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said. “You always want to win and when you don’t you leave with the sensation that you have dropped two points, but you have to recognize that Valencia did a very good job defensively.”

Sevilla are top on 16 points, while Barca have 15 with Atletico Madrid in second due to a better goal-difference. Real Madrid, beaten 1-0 at Deportivo Alaves on Saturday, are fourth, locked on 14 points with RCD Espanyol and Alaves.

Sevilla midfielder Pablo Sarabia headed them toward a fourth league win in a row shortly before halftime, their task made easier when Celta defender Nestor Araujo was sent off for two bookings in two minutes before the hour mark.

The hosts’ Wissam Ben Yedder doubled the lead by nudging the ball home from close range in the 61st minute, although the goal had to be verified by the video assistant referee before it was awarded.

Celta’s Sofiane Boufal scored with an impressive long-range strike in the 85th minute, but it proved only a consolation for the mid-table visitors, who lost for the second time this season.

“I would like the season to end right now,” said Sevilla coach Pablo Machin, sitting at the summit of La Liga for the first time in his career. “We are being ruthless in front of goal and we are feeling confident. We know what we’re capable of and I will try to keep this run going.”

Atletico saw little of the ball against Betis, but kept them at bay with shrewd defensive work and had far more chances, with Croatian forward Nikola Kalinic hitting the woodwork, although they struggled to score until Diego Simeone shuffled his pack.

Kalinic, who started in place of the injured Diego Costa, made way for Thomas Partey, while Correa came on for record signing Thomas Lemar.

The Argentine won possession and played a one-two with Partey before arrowing the ball home in the 74th minute.

“The top teams are stronger because they have great players that can come off the bench and those substitutes at the top teams are the ones that make the difference when a game is very tight,” Atletico coach Simeone said.

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