MADRID: Barce-lona continued their record-breaking start to a La Liga season by beating Sevilla 2-1 thanks to Paco Alcacer’s double on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in an atmosphere at the Camp Nou marked by the political upheaval in Catalonia.
A huge Catalan flag and banners reading “justice” in Catalan and English were displayed before kick-off after eight ministers of the Catalan government deposed by Madrid were detained pending a possible trial for their roles in the drive for Catalan independence.
Loud cries of “freedom” also rang around Europe’s largest stadium sporadically throughout the 90 minutes.
Two other banners reading “Freedom for political prisoners” and “Europe shame on you” were held up by the Barca singing section behind one of the goals.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde last week joked such off-field distractions appeared to be helping his side and once again they weren’t fazed in registering a 10th win in their opening 11 La Liga matches.
“The team are showing that is isn’t a distraction,” said Valverde.
“People come to the Camp Nou to express themselves peacefully and support their team. We play for them.”
The hosts could have scored three times in the opening 10 minutes as Clement Lenglet cleared off the line from Sergio Busquets, David Soria denied Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic fired a long-range effort inches wide.
Alcacer was the surprise choice in Valverde’s starting line-up and he opened the scoring on his first league start since the first day of the season.
“You have to take the chance given to you by the coach,” Alcacer told BeIN Sports Spain.
“More than my game you have to look at it from a team perspective and these games where you are made to suffer mean more.”
Suarez’s cross-field pass was mis-controlled horribly by Sergio Escudero and fell perfectly for Alcacer to slot past the advancing Soria.
Barely a threat before half time, Sevilla came out a different side after the break and levelled just before the hour mark when Guido Pizarro bulleted home Ever Banega’s corner.
Barca reacted immediately, though, and just six minutes later got the winner when Alcacer turned home Rakitic’s precise cross at the near post.
On his 600th Barca appearance, Lionel Messi had the chance to make the game safe when his low effort was saved by Soria, but Barca held on to move 11 points clear of Real Madrid, who face Las Palmas on Sunday (1945 GMT).
“We are top, we aren’t dropping points and we are going into the international break happy,” added Valverde.
“Afterwards we have a tough schedule, we have strong rivals behind us and we need to remain strong to stay on top.”