Varas dazzles to hold Barça goalless
Sevilla goalkeeper Javi Varas saved a stoppage-time Lionel Messi penalty to cap a brilliant display as his team became the first to shutout Barcelona in La Liga at the Nou Camp this season.
The game ended in controversial fashion with Sevilla reduced to nine men, Frederic Kanoute sent off for two bookable offences after the penalty was awarded and Fernando Navarro following him down the tunnel in the sixth minute of added time.
However, Barça could not find the breakthrough as Varas frustrated Pep Guardiola's champions, saving everything they threw at him to ensure Real Madrid, who were 4-0 winners at Malaga earlier this evening, finished the night top of the standings by a point.
Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes broke his own record for the most minutes played without allowing a goal (577), but that will be of little consolation to the Catalan giants.
Andres Iniesta, who netted a superb early opener in Wednesday's 2-0 UEFA Champions League win over Plzen, twice went close to repeating the feat tonight. He was just unable to connect with Messi's floated pass in the sixth minute, and then got a low shot on target from Adriano's cut-back four minutes later only for Varas to give a sign of what was to come by making the save with his leg.
Barcelona defender Eric Abidal handed Sevilla a sight of goal in the 12th minute when he misjudged a cross and only succeeded in chesting the ball towards Jesus Navas, but Valdes smothered at his feet. Valdes was called upon again to make a fine one-handed save in the 20th minute after Dani Alves had carelessly laid on a chance for Navas.
Barça were controlling the tempo of the game, though, and the action soon returned to the other end. Alves was just unable to get his shot away from a brilliant Xavi pass and Varas came out at the feet of David Villa to deny the Spanish striker as he looked to burst through.
The former Valencia forward finished off Barcelona's best move of the first half five minutes before the interval, but again there was no way past Varas. A flowing move down the left involving Adriano and Iniesta ended in the ball being teed up for Villa, but his shot was kept out by the keeper's feet.
Messi surged down the right-hand side of the penalty area on the stroke of half-time but his effort, deflected off defender Federico Fazio, did not have the beating of Varas.
Varas frustrates Barça
The Argentinian forward went even closer to breaking the deadlock three minutes after the break when he curled a free-kick inches over the bar. Varas continued where he left off in the first half, though, and frustrated Barça again in the 54th minute by pulling off another good save to keep out Iniesta's first-time shot from Alves' pull-back.
Barcelona threw everything at their visitors as the half wore on, Guardiola introducing Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez to bolster his attack. Chances continued to come and go, but there was no way past Varas.
Adriano fired just over while Iniesta had weak shot comfortably saved by the Sevilla keeper, who had to be on his toes midway through the second half to avert the danger after Julien Escude had directed Alves' pull-back towards his own goal.
Iniesta got his foot to the ball ahead of Varas in the 73rd minute following a great piece of vision by Messi, but looped his effort just over the bar. Messi's mazy run then set up Fabregas, but the opportunity led to nothing more than a corner, and the South American then surged down the right and got his shot away himself from a tight angle but Varas was in the way.
The clock was fast ticking down, but Barça looked to have been handed a golden chance when the referee pointed to the spot on the stroke of full-time for a foul by Fazio on Iniesta. Sevilla substitute Kanoute held up Messi's kick by nudging the ball off its spot, earning his first yellow card, and then clattered Fabregas to see red and further delay the taking of the penalty.
When Messi did step up, the outstanding Varas pulled off the save his performance merited as the chance slipped away. There was still time for more drama as Navarro was given his marching orders for bringing down Villa, but Barcelona could not make the most of the resulting free-kick.