An incredible game, more mastery from Lionel Messi and, possibly, the first of six trophies for Barcelona this term – UEFA.com's Andy James reflects on a spellbinding night in Tbilisi.
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It was not quite the stroll to victory it threatened to be, but Barcelona did finally make it a record five UEFA Super Cup wins on Tuesday. After a topsy-turvy encounter with Sevilla in Tbilisi, the Azulgrana ultimately prevailed thanks to Pedro Rodríguez's 115th-minute effort.
Double the treble?
How could Luis Enrique's team possibly improve on last season's historic treble? They could, in fact, double that haul. The Catalan giants are in contention for six trophies this term, one of which is already under lock and key courtesy of this epic defeat of Sevilla. "We now have to think about the Spanish Super Cup [against Athletic Club]," said Luis Enrique.
News that Neymar, one third of Barcelona's enviable 'MSN' frontline, would miss the game with mumps prompted speculation about who would start on the left. Pedro was the favourite, yet it was Rafinha who got the nod and scored to make it 3-1 and seemingly kill off the contest. It did not work out that way, but the young Brazilian continued to impress and was denied by the bar late on.
Still, it was substitute Pedro who grabbed the headlines as he lashed in the rebound from a Lionel Messi free-kick to win the match deep into extra time. This was a UEFA Super Cup story we'd heard before. Back in 2009, when Barça lifted the trophy for the third time with success against Shakhtar Donetsk in Monaco, it was Pedro who struck the clincher. Again in the 115th minute. Again as a substitute.
UEFA Best Player in Europe watch
With the three finalists for the UEFA Best Player in Europe award set to be announced on Wednesday, this was an opportunity to catch two of the ten nominees in action.
One in particular, Messi, put on a real show for the adoring Georgian fans. After seeing Éver Banega curl in an early opener, Messi refused to be outdone and promptly turned in two of his own. Thirty-six goals in 37 outings in 2015 so far tells its own story, the latest pair drawing him level with Cristiano Ronaldo on 80 UEFA club competition goals.
Luis Suárez is also in contention for Europe's most prestigious individual accolade. If initially he was not quite as conspicuous as his fellow South American, the Uruguayan did make an impact. Racing clean through on 44 minutes, it looked like it might not be his night when Beto made the save. However, the No9 pounced upon the rebound, teeing up Rafinha for Barcelona's third. When his second chance came along, Suárez made no mistake.
Man of the match
Messi – without a shadow of a doubt. The locals were dying to see their hero score and they were treated not once but twice to the kind of Messi magic that makes him arguably the best player on the planet. Rising to the occasion – and the Georgian supporters' cries of "Messi, Messi, Messi" – the Barcelona superstar delivered two immaculate free-kicks in succession to turn the game inside ten first-half minutes.
From there it was as though he could do no wrong. Some of his link-up play with Daniel Alves down the right was outstanding. It was a performance to make you smile – and everyone in the stadium will be boasting for years to come that they saw Messi at his brilliant best.
Friends in Georgia
When the Argentinian got off the team bus, when his name was read out before kick-off, whenever he was on the ball, it was a cue for mass applause from the Georgian public savouring the rare opportunity to see one of the world's best up close. Messi, though, was not the only one to win new friends.
Sevilla's players were asked beforehand whether it would be like an away fixture given the strong local bias towards Barça. Coke joked that "hopefully by the 50th minute they'll be supporting us because our football is so good". It may not have come quite so quick but incredibly, when Sevilla made it 4-4 in the 81st minute, they had not only turned the game but also the crowd, who began chanting "Sevilla, Sevilla, Sevilla!".