With what may be his final act in a Barcelona shirt, Pedro decided a thrilling UEFA Super Cup in favor of the Catalans to secure a 5-4 victory after extra-time in Tbilisi. Pedro, who had been left out of the starting lineup after the club revealed he had asked to leave amid strong reported interest from Manchester United, struck from close range five minutes before the end of the added 30 minutes to keep Barcelona on course for a clean sweep of trophies in 2015.
The Catalans’ quest to add to their treble of last season first appeared in jeopardy when Ever Banega scored with a fine free-kick to put last season’s Europa League winners in front with less than three minutes on the clock. But less than 14 minutes later, the game would be turned on its head as Lionel Messi struck two superb efforts from dead balls of his own to put Barcelona into the lead. And victory looked to be secured after goals either side of halftime from Rafinha and Luis Suarez. But last season’s fifth-place finishers in La Liga refused to go down easily, striking through Jose Antonio Reyes, a Kevin Gameiro penalty and late on substitute Yevhen Konopplyanka to force a most unexpected of extra time.
Yet Pedro came up big for Barcelona to give them their fifth success in the European Super and leave them just two trophies away from winning every prize on offer and matching the six won by Pep Guardiola’s side in 2009. In the next week they will take on Athletic Bilbao in a two-legged Spanish Super Cup before heading to Japan for the Club World Cup at the end of the year. And, on the offensive side at least, there was enough evidence in the Georgian capital on Tuesday to suggest they will again take some stopping this season.
Luis Enrique’s side were not at full strength, with their famed front three disrupted by the absence of Neymar after the Brazilian star contracted the mumps. Neymar was expected to be replaced by Pedro, but the club stalwart was left on the bench until extra time. Yet despite those absences Barcelona still had ample firepower.
Yet, amid plenty of defensive sloppiness from Barcelona, Sevilla showed they had attacking quality in abundance, too, And it was the underdogs who struk first. After Reyes was brought down on the edge of the box by Javier Mascherano, skilled Argentina international Banega curled a right-footed effort over the wall and into the net with Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
It was always going to be difficult for Sevilla to hang onto the lead, though. Not only were they coming up against the attacking might of Barcelona, but Unai Emery’s side had been hit hard by illness and injury in the buildup that left them particularly short of options in defense. Indeed, midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was forced to deputize in the center of defense, with winger Michael Krohn-Dehli replacing him in the center of midfield.
Admittedly, there was little Sevilla could do to prevent Messi from inspiring a turn around. After first finding the top corner with a pin-point effort from just outside the box, a few minutes later Messi whipped a stunning effort from further out into the same part of the net past a beleaguered Beto.
Having gone in front, Barcelona firmly took control. Increasingly dropping back, Sevilla appeared desperate merely to hold on until halftime with just a one-goal deficit. Even that objective proved beyond. When a minute before the break, from what was at that stage a rare Sevilla attack, Barcelona pounced on a devastating break. Suarez broke free from halfway and, although his effort was denied by Beto, the Uruguayan collected the ball and calmly fed it through the legs of a defender for Rafinha to tap home after the replacement for Neymar had been allowed to escape his marker.
Just seven minutes after the interval Sevilla’s defense came unstuck once more. Benoit Tremoulinas passed the ball straight to the feet of Sergio Busquets, who played in a wide open Suarez to strike the ball into the net. At 4-1 that looked to have set the tone for a comfortable second half stroll for Barcelona. Instead it was anything but.
Five minutes later came the first hint of what was to come when Jeremy Mathieu was caught out for Reyes to volley home Vitolo’s fine cross. But it was when the increasingly hapless Mathieu hauled back Vitolo in the box with 18 minutes remaining and Gameiro blasted past Ter Stegen from 12 yards that things really got interesting.
Enrique moved to shore up his side by removing Rafinha and introducing extra defender Marc Bartra. Yet with nine minutes left of regulation time it was Bartra who produced an error that allowed Sevilla to complete a remarkable revival. One new signing off the bench, Ciro Immobile, took advantage to set up another, Konoplyanka, to finish from close range and force an extra 30 minutes.
It was Barcelona who took back control in extra-time and with a penalty shootout on the horizon they finally sealed victory. Messi saw his free-kick blocked by the wall and then his follow-up effort saved by Beto, but Pedro followed in to etch Barcelona’s name on the trophy.