Barcelona continues to find new ways to win in La Liga

Paco Alcacer (R) and Lionel Messi celebrate one of Alcacer’s two goals in Barcelona’s match vs. Sevilla. (Getty)

It was not particularly fluid. Not particularly thorough. And frankly, it was not particularly impressive. Through three months of the 2017-18 season, those adjectives haven’t applied to Barcelona as often as they have in the past, and they certainly didn’t apply on Saturday night.

But in a downpour, on yet another Catalonian day overshadowed by the region’s political climate, Barcelona’s football club did just what it has been doing almost without fail throughout those three months. It won. Somehow, someway, it meandered its way to three points, and moved four clear at the top of La Liga. More importantly, it inched 11 points ahead of title rivals Real Madrid.

Its latest formula was headlined by two goals from Paco Alcacer, who hadn’t cracked the starting lineup in the league since the season’s opening day. The 24-year-old Valencia product walked the offside tightrope, pounced on an errant touch, and gave Barcelona a lead:

Barcelona’s staunch defense conceded on a corner after the break, leaving it with more work to do. Guido Pizarro leaped above Gerard Pique, and his header skipped off the wet grass and into the top corner.

But Alcacer came to the rescue. He sensed space in the so-called corridor of uncertainty, and pointed it out to Ivan Rakitic. Rakitic slung a deadly cross into that space, and Alcacer stabbed it into the back of the net.

Sevilla wasn’t particularly taut defensively, but Barcelona’s front three – which included Alcacer, and later Gerard Deolofeu, alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – weren’t quite on the same page. Messi, aside from a few moments, was silent. Suarez’s tough season, his first as a 30-year-old, continued. At 2-1, Barcelona squandered several opportunities to put the game away.

But it held on. Its only dropped points of the season so far have been respectable ones, at Atletico Madrid. Barca has avoided poor luck in games it has dominated, it has staged late comebacks and it has held on to thin leads. It endured a late-September stretch of decidedly poor performances without a single loss or draw.

It leads La Liga thanks to its historically strong defense. The unit, led by Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets and goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, had conceded four goals in all competitions entering Saturday,  the fewest of any Barcelona team at this point of a season in at least 25 years.

But even when its back line is breached, even when Messi is stifled, and even when Suarez looks several years older than he did just 12 months ago, Barca has found a way. Many of the problems predicted over the offseason have in fact materialized, but they haven’t been costly.

Regression could hit at some point, simply based on randomness and luck. The league-leaders almost certainly won’t stay unbeaten. But they have the quality – whether it’s Messi and Suarez, or Rakitic and Alcacer – to pull through underwhelming spells. And because they’ve done that through 11 games, they have a lead over Madrid that, in years past, has been insurmountable. Regression would have to strike with plenty of force to truly bring Los Blancos back into contention.

Barcelona was supposed to be the crisis club. Barcelona was supposed to be vulnerable. Madrid was supposed to have built a dynasty. Instead, the latter is desperately trying to find its footing, while the former keeps trudging along, taking baby steps each week, toward a commanding La Liga lead.