Barca held by Sevilla as Real Madrid see off Levante

MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona dropped their first points of the season on Sunday night as Sevilla made a statement of intent in La Liga’s title race by drawing 1-1 at Camp Nou.

Luuk de Jong gave Sevilla an early lead and while Philippe Coutinho levelled two minutes later, the visitors were arguably the better side in a frantic contest.

The draw brings an end to Ronald Koeman’s perfect start as Barca coach but he might not be too displeased with a point, even if his team also had chances to snatch a winner.

“We were less energetic than in the first two games but that also depends on the opposition,” said Koeman. “They have defended well.”

Real Madrid are three points ahead of Barcelona but having played a game more, after their 2-0 win over Levante earlier on Sunday sent them to the top of the table.

Goals from Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema sealed victory for the reigning champions, who have now won three games on the bounce.

Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho celebrates after scoring his goal against Sevilla. PHOTO: AFP

Neither Madrid nor Barca were busy on the last day of the transfer window yesterday, with both clubs finding themselves financially restricted by the coronavirus pandemic.

But some players could be allowed to leave and it was noticeable that Koeman left Ousmane Dembele on the bench, even as his team searched for a winner.

Koeman preferred to bring on the youthful duo of Francisco Trincao and Pedri.

“Things can happen,” said Koeman afterwards when asked about Dembele. “Right now he’s a Barca player, let’s see. There is one day left, players can come in or go out.”

Antoine Griezmann also offered very little down the right but the Frenchman will be given more time under Koeman.

Luka Jovic was dropped to the bench by Zinedine Zidane and not brought on, but he is expected to stay after the departure of Borja Mayoral to Roma.

De Jong put Sevilla in front after eight minutes as Barcelona failed to react to a short corner and then failed to clear, the ball sitting up nicely for the striker to smash in.

But the lead lasted less than two minutes, a brilliant, curved ball over the top by Lionel Messi causing panic in the Sevilla defence, where Jesus Navas slid to intercept but only teed up the resurgent Coutinho to finish.

Messi sent a bending shot past the far post and Ansu Fati hit straight at the goalkeeper but Sevilla were the ones in the ascendancy.

Barcelona struggled to get out from the back under pressure from Sevilla’s high press and Ronald Araujo almost scored an own goal, spared by the post after Youssef En-Nesyri’s run down the left.

Madrid, meanwhile, registered a third clean sheet in four games to see off Levante as Vinicius and a late strike from Benzema sealed victory.

“We had to suffer,” said Zinedine Zidane. “We had chances in the second half to kill the game and that would have made it different. We suffered a lot because they also had chances.”