The Community Shield doesn’t get such a good rap in England. Imagine, then, dragging it out over two legs, the first taking place on a Sunday night at 10pm.
Yes, the Spanish fixture list takes no prisoners yet it was a weariness of a different kind that reduced Sevilla vs Barcelona into a lethargic slugfest.
Pre-season excursions, coupled with international tournaments for a number of the starters at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, had understandably taken their toll on bodies and minds in the first-leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
But, in the end, class shined through. Doesn’t it always. Luis Suarez with the first, Munir with the second, and suddenly a lacklustre, visibly fatigued Barcelona have a 2-0 lead going into the second leg at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
But what lessons can we glean from this most pre-season-y of competitive clashes?
Weary legs and tired minds
If there’s one team you don’t want to face on your first game of the competitive season, it’s Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla, making four changes from their heart-breaking UEFA Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid on Tuesday. Despite only two meaningful games in charge, it’s clear already that the former Chile manager has printed his imitable signature all over the Europa League champions.
Pressing Barca high up the pitch, as they did against Real, Sevilla restricted the passing lanes into Sergio Busquets and forced Luis Enrique’s side into a series of rushed clearances and shaky one-twos on the edge of their own box in the early exchanges.
At half-time, Sevilla matched Barca for possession. You don’t need to be Guillem Balague to know that doesn’t happen often.
The Blaugrana’s poorest displays last season came when Busquets was unable to stamp his metronomic influence on the midfield battle and Sampaoli clearly identified swarming the Barca number five as his best chance of a debut victory at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Only fatigue prevented Sevilla from maintaining their relentless pace in the second-half. Consequently, they lost. Again.
Sevilla wasteful – Barca fortunate
In Trondheim on Tuesday, Sevilla were guilty of possession without purpose, Steven N’Zonzi and Vicente Iborra recycling the ball lethargically from one flank to the other. Against Barca, however, they were more direct, spraying early balls into rampaging right-back Mariano and finding playmaker Vitolo in space throughout the opening 45.
Yet, Claudio Bravo remained untested. Despite their endless flurry of half-chances and blocked shots, Sevilla failed to capitalise on a first-half performance that reduced Barcelona to the role of a pragmatic underdog. At times, even Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were positioned near the edge of their own area as Sevilla’s aggressive press forced Barca back.
Midway through the first half, Sergio Escudero evaded stand-in right-back Sergi Roberto down the left before clipping an aimless cross into the grateful arms of Bravo.
Seconds later, Vitolo outmuscled debutant Lucas Digne with Luciano Vietto guilty of ball-watching rather than displaying the kind of predatory instinct that earned him 12 La Liga goals for Villarreal just two seasons ago; Sevilla summed up in a matter of minutes.
Yes, Barcelona improved immeasurably in the second half but it was Sevilla’s profligacy that gave the visitors the platform for victory.
Barca’s subs star
What do you get the man who has everything? More top class professional footballers, apparently. Luis Enrique frequently bemoaned the size of his squad last season, as fatigue and niggling injuries threatened to derail Barcelona’s triple-pronged assault on the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa Del Rey.
Therefore, Barca have spent the summer months readying themselves for another stab at domestic and continental glory, sprucing up their squad with a flurry of new arrivals in key positions. It was rather fitting then, that the sight of Jeremy Mathieu and Andres Iniesta hobbling off in the first half less than a week before Barcelona’s La Liga curtain raiser was offset by the impressive performances of substitutes Lucas Digne and Denis Suarez.
Digne, a £13.8 million summer signing from PSG, defended solidly after his 27th minute introduction, showing composure and quality in equal measure when shrugging off Vitolo in the box late on.
Meanwhile, Suarez, knitting and weaving possession in Xavi’s infamous 6, laid the foundations for namesake Luis’ opener with a pass worthy Catalan legend himself.
And, as Munir netted the clincher seconds after coming off the bench late on, Barca’s win felt a little sweeter. With Enrique spending what feels like eternity publically expressing his desire to supplement the finest forward line in modern football history with another top-class goal-getter, Munir offered a timely reminder of his quality, and presence, with a clinically taken strike.
It only gets Arda for Turan
It’s fair to say Arda Turan’s Camp Nou career hasn’t exactly been the unqualified success most expected when he arrived from Atletico last summer. And the Turkish international’s performance against Sevilla will have done little to lower the doubter’s decibels. Pushed forwards into Neymar’s left-wing position, Arda once again struggled to influence the game in an attacking sense, a miscued overhead kick his only notable contribution in another anonymous first-half performance.
Turan improved in a more central role in the second-half, however, setting up Suarez’ volley with a clever knock-down that demonstrated both the excellent technique and innate awareness that made him central to Simeone’s game plan at Atletico.
"Arda did not play in his usual position but he is a great player, with excellent quality, and he demonstrated this with the pass that gave me the first goal," Suarez said after the game, as reported by FourFourTwo.
Suarez the difference
In tightly-contested cup final, it helps when you’ve got a £75 million, 59 goal-a-season striker waiting to pounce in the key moments. It was a tale of two strikers in Seville. The home sides number nine, Luciano Vietto, toiled up-front, completely anonymous until his second-half withdrawal.
Like against Real Madrid last week, the young Argentine never once looked like finding a pocket of space, never mind breaking an increasingly impenetrable deadlock.
His opposite number, however, was precisely the opposite. Despite firing too close to Sergio Rico when one-on-one in the opening exchanges, flicking a header into the keeper’s arms after the interval, it was always going to be Luis Suarez. And so it proved; lashing a perfect volley into the bottom corner early in the second half.
With Messi struggling to influence the game in his usual masterful manner, kept on lock-down by the combative man-marking of the most-definitely-Argentine centre-back Gabriel Mercado, Suarez’s electric movement and razor-sharp finishing transformed an otherwise average Barcelona performance into a winning one.