SEVILLE, Spain — Barcelona forwards Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi fired the Catalans to a confidence-boosting 2-0 win at in-form Sevilla on Saturday to keep the pressure on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
Dembele latched on to a through ball from Messi and knocked it through the legs of Sevilla keeper Bono to give Barca a deserved lead in the 29th minute after dominating the first half and barely giving their hosts a hint of a chance.
Sevilla improved after the break, but Barca continued to have the edge and found a second goal five minutes from time when Messi played a one-two with teenage midfielder Ilaix Moriba and netted with a scrappy finish after his first effort was saved.
The result ended a six-game winning streak in the league for Sevilla, who remained fourth in the standings on 48 points, while Barca climbed above Real Madrid into second place with 53 points, two behind Atletico but having played two more games.
Sevilla can avenge the defeat on Wednesday when they head to the Camp Nou for a Copa del Rey semifinal second leg with a 2-0 lead in the tie.
Barca defender Gerard Pique praised his side for putting their 4-1 Champions League drubbing by Paris St. Germain and a shock 1-1 draw with Cadiz behind them.
“I’m so proud of the team, we have had some big setbacks recently, but we have bounced back and today we showed that we’re still very much alive,” he said.
“We have a great squad that is good enough to compete with anyone and on Wednesday, we’ll give them a real battle.
“The title race is on, we have come back from far worse situations before.”
Barca are likely to be without defender Ronald Araujo for the second leg after he made his return from injury off the bench but had to be taken off with an ankle problem 15 minutes later.
Barca coach Ronald Koeman got his tactics spot on against Julen Lopetegui’s side, lining up with a 3-5-2 formation he has used on special occasions this season.
The shape gave Barca extra width but above all helped limit Sevilla’s ability to counterattack and they barely managed to trouble keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
“This was a complete performance from us,” added Koeman.
“The most important thing today was our ambition, our fighting spirit and we pressed as an entire team. We had the mentality to press them for 95 minutes, and that was the key thing.”
Sergio Busquets and Pedri dominated in midfield for Barca, while Dembele used his electric pace to get in behind Sevilla’s defence and cause havoc.
The French forward is in the form of his life and after breaking the deadlock with a confident finish, he nearly set up a second goal when he danced through Sevilla’s defense to tee up Messi, who uncharacteristically skied his effort.
Barca’s captain made amends for the miss, however, scoring his 19th La Liga goal this season and a 30th league goal against Sevilla. — Reuters