In the end, Saturday night was forgettable for the majority of Barcelona fans. As Freddie Kanoute celebrated his second goal and Sevilla's third, the message boards and twitter accounts of the blaugrana fans were humming with anger and angst. Some proposed Zlatan be sent immediately to Milan (as the rumor-mongers in the Spanish press currently have it), others that Bojan be relegated to the darkest depths of la tercera, or that Rubén Miño, making his first competitive start for the first team, should be put in stocks on the Plaça de Catalunya. Metaphorically, of course.
Guardiola took his chances with his lineup, knowing he couldn't risk his Spanish international players before they'd had two full days of training with the club. So he left them all in Barcelona and relied on the youth system against a tough, physical Sevilla side (plus Jesus Navas, who is neither tough nor physical) that was playing the vast majority of their regular starters. Luis Fabiano versus Sergi Gómez sounded like a disaster; Oriol Romeu and Jonathan dos Santos would be ground into find dust by Renato and company. Yet for 60 minutes and certainly the first 45, the team was superior to Sevilla.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a goal off an inch-perfect pass from Maxwell in the 20th minute, sticking out a long leg to flick the ball beyond Andres Palop. The crowd, heavily laced with Barça loyalists, cheered loudly. It was telling that moments before Ibra had hooked the foot of Bojan, who stumbled on it and let his chance go begging. Bojan would, for the remainder of the match, seem to be thrown off keel by that trip and would end up with what can only be described as a stinker. Ibra looked like he was struggling at the end of the first half, as if he had picked up an injury (a bad sign) or was simply exhausted (a worse sign). He was substituted in the 52nd minute by Lionel Messi, but instead of opening up the game, Messi began to play alone through the middle as Sevilla gained the upper hand in midfield through the addition of new man Luca Cigarini, on for Romaric at half time. Messi found himself facing several layers of defenders as Bojan went missing in action time and again and Maxwell reverted to type, dropping deeper and deeper into defense instead of holding shape and using forward pressure to create space for Messi.
Dani Alves, usually a tireless worker, looked short of fitness towards the end after a barnstorming first half in which he was everywhere on both ends of the pitch. His 90 minutes in New York on Tuesday after a flight from Beijing looked to be taking its toll late in the match and his impact fell off considerably. That is not to take away from the inspired match Diego Perotti had on Sevilla's left wing, but a fully fit Dani Alves is rarely turned as easily as he was for Sevilla's third goal.
Guardiola's necessary gamble, then, on Jonathan, Oriol, Sergi Gómez, and Thiago late on, looked to have paid off at halftime, only to crumble in the face of a veteran bench. Only Sergi Gómez looked out of his depth and he arguably had the toughest assignment of all the youngsters. Jonathan looked fully capable of running the offense and Oriol looked comfortable at the DM. Thiago, coming on as a substitute for Jonathan, showed more attacking verve, as his wont, but gave up space on the defensive end that the ever-hard-working Seydou Keita simply could not cover.
It was a good gamble and a gamble that came one Palop save from bearing a rather solid amount of fruit. Keita's late drive was parried by the keeper and the resulting corner went begging. Bojan also slipped in Messi who slipped the ball by Palop and were it not for Bojan's bungled first touch the Argentine would have been onside. He wasn't, of course, and the match ended 3-1. A 2-0 victory or better earns Barcelona the title and while that is not particularly likely, the Spanish internationals will be back in the lineup and that could make the difference. Trusting in the cantera, as Barcelona have done recently, may not produce a series of World Cup winners for 2014 or even 2018, but it will ensure that Barcelona continue to uphold the style it has set out to play.
The loss will also, perhaps, tamp down expectations a bit for the squad, who have been tipped to win another sextuple by those who forget how hard it was to win the first one. As always, every trophy must be earned on the field rather than by merely showing up decorated head-to-toe in awards by sportswriters and the Supercopa de España is proving to be a fierce test.