An inspired performance from Sevilla goalkeeper Javi Varas halted FC Barcelona's imperious home record in a heated contest at the Camp Nou on Saturday night.
A 94th minute penalty save from La Liga top goalscorer Lionel Messi in a stoppage time period which saw Sevilla reduced to nine men, capped a resolute display from the Andalusian side as Barcelona were prevented from scoring for the first time this season.
Both teams went into the match unbeaten and Barcelona were hoping to continue their remarkable scoring record at the Camp Nou after scoring 21 goals in their opening four home fixtures. Sevilla hosted an impressive defensive record however, having conceded only four goals in their opening seven league contests.
Barça manager Pep Guardiola made several changes to the side that defeated Viktoria Plzen 2-0 in the Champions League midweek, introducing Adriano, Javier Mascherano, Seydou Keita and Thiago Alcantara to the fray while summer signing Cesc Fabregas had to settle for a place on the substitutes bench after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Barcelona were quick off the starting blocks, carving out several early chances in the opening 15 minutes. Andrés Iniesta was unable to repeat his midweek goal when Messi's floated cross just eluded him on the far post and he was then denied several minutes later when he connected well with Adriano's cut-back but his low drive was well saved by the legs of Varas. It was to be a sign of things to come as the Spanish shot-stopper would prove to be a difficult barrier for Barcelona's lucrative attacking force to breach.
Pep Guardiola has recently been bemoaning opposition teams who come to the Camp Nou to 'park the bus' but Sevilla arrived with plenty of attacking intent, causing the Catalan giants' backline problems with their swift counter-attacks and pacey wingers. Spanish midfielder Jesus Navas capitalised on an error by Eric Abidal after the French defender misjudged a cross but Victor Valdés was alert to smother the ball and remove the danger. Emiliano Armenteros almost gave Sevilla the lead on 16 minutes but his audacious half-volley just whistled past the post with Valdés scrambling across his goalmouth.
Marcelino's side were growing in confidence and Navas nearly gave the away side the lead on 19 minutes; his rasping effort seemed to be heading into the top left-hand corner but Valdés pulled off a magnificent one-handed save to tip the ball over the crossbar. The home support were becoming increasingly anxious as Barcelona's makeshift back four were being exposed.
The best chance of the first half, however, fell to the home side, specifically Adriano, with a lung-busting run down the left flank and interchanging passes with Iniesta, but his wonderful cut-back could not be converted by David Villa whose left-footed effort struck the legs of Varas. Inches either side of the goalkeeper and Barcelona would have been celebrating a 1-0 lead heading into the break. Instead, the opening 45 minutes remained goalless, and Sevilla was buoyed by a valiant team effort.
The second half began in similar fashion with a resolute defensive display from the away side frustrating Barcelona who began to lay siege to Varas's goal. Messi's 35-yard free kick just curled over Varas's crossbar on 48 minutes before Iniesta's low drive from outside the box brushed the fingertips of the Sevilla goalkeeper once again as Barcelona were made to settle for a corner. Julien Escude nearly diverted the ball into his own net from Dani Alves's low cross on 68 minutes but Varas was alert and pulled off an excellent reflex save to keep his clean sheet intact.
Varas however was beaten on 72 minutes when Messi's exquisite through-ball was met by Iniesta's clever run; the Spanish international lobbing the ball over the advancing goalkeeper only to be denied by the frame of the goal as Sevilla breathed a sigh of relief. The camera panned to Iniesta who watched his shot strike the woodwork, his expression told the whole story: anguish and despair.
Barcelona were nearly made to lick their wounds on 75 minutes when Navas's intelligent pass found Ivan Rakitic midway inside the Barcelona half, clean through on goal after Barcelona had committed all but one man forward. Unfortunately for Sevilla, the ball became trapped underneath the Croatian's boots and Fabregas scuttled back to make a crucial interception. It was a huge let-off for the home side who appeared to have abandoned all defensive responsibilities in search of an elusive opener.
As the game progressed, Barcelona's formation appeared to have transformed into a 2-5-3, entrusting Eric Abidal and Javier Mascherano with huge duties at the back. Sevilla on the other hand had retreated into a 4-6-0 formation, happy to even make it into the opposing half let alone having an attempt on goal.
Fazio was a rock at the heart of the Sevilla defence and he prevented his side from going behind late on when he flung himself in front of Fabregas's goal-bound effort after a dazzling run from Messi.
However, the Argentinian centre-half then turned from hero to villain in the 90th minute when he tripped Iniesta who had danced through the Sevilla defence, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot. The Sevilla players surrounded the linesman; incensed by the decision. They had worked tirelessly all game but now one kick would determine the destiny of the encounter.
However, before the penalty could be taken, Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute was booked for foul play, after attempting to distract Lionel Messi before kicking the ball off the penalty spot. When Kanoute marched back to take his place on the edge of the box, a fracas erupted on the pitch with Kanoute clearly livid with something that Fabregas had said. The tall Mali international appeared to slap the Spaniard before throwing him to the floor, albeit with a overreaction from the former Arsenal maestro. Kanoute was duly dismissed and the action returned to the penalty with Messi still patiently waiting to take the spotkick, fully focused.
However, the Argentinian's effort was saved expertly by Varas who was performing a once-in-a-lifetime display to keep his side level. In truth, it was not the best of strikes from the usually clinical Messi but if anyone is allowed an off-day, the Barcelona forward surely tops the list.
Fernando Navarro was sent off in the seventh minute of stoppage time for a second bookable offence after a reckless, mis-timed challenge on Pedro but Sevilla hung on for an unlikely point. The Sevilla players were jubilant on the pitch; applauding their goalkeeper for his magnificent display.
"We must congratulate the Sevilla defence and tonight's big-game player Javi Varas," Guardiola said after the match. "However, I think we played well, but we must congratulate the performance of Sevilla, and get back up and kick back on Tuesday."
The draw for Pep Guardiola's side sends them to third in the La Liga table, two points off unlikely leaders Levante and one point behind Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid who secured an impressive 4-0 win away at big-spenders Malaga. Barcelona face a trip to play new boys Granada on Tuesday night.