Paco Alcacer, Ivan Rakitic star as Barca stretch unbeaten run to 16
On Lionel Messi's 600th Barca appearance, Paco Alcacer, not the Argentine, was the hero with a surprise double to see off Sevilla under the pouring rain at Camp Nou.
Ernesto Valverde shocked most by handing Alcacer his first league start since the opening day of the season, but he was handsomely rewarded by two poacher's finishes from the former Valencia captain.
Alcacer's 23rd-minute opener was scant reward for Barca's dominance before half-time, and the hosts' lack of ruthlessness looked like it might come back to haunt them when Guido Pizarro powered home Ever Banega's corner just before the hour mark.
However, Barca and Alcacer weren't to be denied a 10th win 11 games to start their La Liga campaign when he gave Ivan Rakitic's brilliant cross the finish it deserved just six minutes after Sevilla's equaliser.
Barca picked up three points and might have recovered a €30 million striker in the process. Alcacer looked headed for the exit door in January, but on this evidence, he can provide some much-needed cover for the currently misfiring Luis Suarez.
After a fine first 45 minutes, Barca were pinned back for large parts of the second period once Sevilla decided to press high. As a spectacle, Valverde's Barca remain far off some of the sparkling sides seen at Camp Nou over the past decade, even if the results are better than ever before.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Many were scratching their heads when the team sheet came out with Alcacer handed a shock return. As it turns out, Valverde knows best. With Andres Iniesta back fit, the rest of the team picked itself and the only doubt over Valverde's decision-making was in bringing on Gerard Deulofeu for Alcacer rather than the out-of-sorts Luis Suarez.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Far from his heroics last weekend at San Mames, the German barely had a save to make and couldn't be blamed for conceding for just the fifth time this season over all competitions.
DF Nelson Semedo, 7 -- His blistering pace snuffed out a big chance for Pablo Sarabia, albeit his intervention counted for little as Sevilla scored from the resulting corner. Will almost certainly now be handed the long run in the team he needs to establish himself in Sergi Roberto's absence.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Beaten to the ball by Pizarro for the goal, but otherwise largely untroubled. Also almost scored the goal of his career with a stunning long-range shot that clipped the bar.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- A very rare slack pass from the normally reliable Frenchman nearly handed Luis Muriel a gift before half-time. Thankfully for Umtiti, the Colombian blazed wide and he went onto recover his composure.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Not the same attacking outlet he has been in recent weeks and appeared to pull up in stoppage time with a muscle problem that could see him sit out Spain's friendlies with Costa Rica and Russia in the next couple of weeks.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Missed a sitter early on after wonderful set up play from Messi. However, scoring goals isn't what Busquets is paid to do and he did what is expected of him by dominating the midfield.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Inspired playing against his former club, Rakitic was everywhere. He played a huge role in the winning goal with an inch-perfect cross for Alcacer, but also saw a 25-yard effort fly inches wide and should have been awarded a penalty in the closing stages.
MF Andres Iniesta, 8 -- The pros and cons of Iniesta at 33 were in evidence as his passing contributed hugely to arguably Barca's best 45 minutes of the season in the first-half. However, on his return from injury, he again lasted just an hour before being replaced by Paulinho.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- Anyone else might have a claim for man of the match with this display, for Messi it was underwhelming based on his form so far this season. Still played his part with the pass to Rakitic in the build-up to Alcacer's winner.
FW Luis Suarez, 4 -- Valverde insists he's not worried about the Uruguayan's form but it is now five games without a goal and, more worryingly, Suarez didn't even really come that close this time. A two-week break -- having not been called up by Uruguay for international duty -- looks just what he needs.
FW Paco Alcacer, 9 -- Just as Valencia were starting to believe a title challenge may be on, their former captain came up with the goods to show Barca should have just too much strength in depth to throw their lead at the top of the table away. A huge confidence booster, this could be the night that launched Alcacer's Barca career, and he now has more La Liga goals this season than Cristiano Ronaldo.
MF Paulinho, 5 -- Didn't provide the control offered by Iniesta, nor the goal threat he normally brings.
MF Gerard Deulofeu, 5 -- Introduced for Alcacer with not nearly the same effect and left Suarez frustrated with a poor cross when he had the chance to end his goal drought in stoppage time.
MF Javier Mascherano, NR -- Brought on in stoppage time to wind the clock down.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.