Paco Alcacer steals the show on Lionel Messi's 600th appearance as Barcelona defeat Sevilla
The forward has not had many chances to take centre stage at Camp Nou, but he was the hero on Saturday night.
Paco Alcacer arrived at Camp Nou 16 months ago with a reputation as a striker who needed only half a chance to score.
His Barcelona career has not gone to plan since his €30 million (Dh127.8m) move from Valencia, but his positioning and instinct was faultless as he scored both the Catalans’ goals in a 2-1 win over Sevilla at a wet Camp Nou on Saturday night.
The centre forward who can play as a secondary striker managed only six league goals last term, all in games where Barcelona hit between three and seven goals.
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There were mitigating circumstances. Getting in the team ahead of Neymar, Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez was a challenge for any player in football, but the product of Valencia’s youth system who had represented Spain at every age group struggled to shine along with another signing from Valencia, Andre Gomes.
Valencia are not afraid to give young players a chance and current Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery gave Alcacer his debut at 17, with Arsene Wenger an early admirer.
Barca made their move after Alcacer’s 43 goals in 124 Valencia games, but while his role has been peripheral at Camp Nou and he was chosen to start only his second league game of the season against Sevilla, Alcacer does score when he plays, with nine goals from his last nine starts for Barca.
The decision to start him was justified as Alcacer scored his first and second league goals of the season on a night when Lionel Messi made his 600th Barcelona appearance and also passed Carles Puyol to become Barcelona’s third all-time top appearance-maker.
Given Messi has hit 523 goals in those matches, it was a rare appearance when he did not score, but Barca started with seven shots in the first 10 minutes against the fifth-placed side who also played an Uefa Champions League fixture midweek.
Alcacer’s first came after 22 minutes as he benefitted when a Suarez pass was inadvertently knocked into his path by defender Escudero. Barca’s No 17 feinted his direction before slipping the ball under keeper Soria.
Sevilla levelled when Guido Pizarro headed a corner from his Argentine compatriot Ever Banega in the 59th minute downwards and beyond Andre Ter Stegen in the Barça goal.
Parity lasted six minutes, when Alcacer’s second came after Ivan Rakitic crossed the ball into an area between goalkeeper Soria and Valencia’s retreating central defenders.
Alcacer timed a run perfectly, sliding forward and nudging the ball past Valencia’s goalkeeper.
The two-goal hero was given an ovation from the 70,723 crowd when he was taken off for Gerard Deulofeu a minute later.
That crowd was 15,000 down on the equivalent fixture in April. It rained that night too, but attendances have been down at Camp Nou all season.
The August terrorist attack and dissatisfaction with the club president, followed by severe political instability have not helped, nor has a lack of big teams in the club’s opening games.
There was also considerably less then 70,000 inside Camp Nou when the game kicked off, with thousands of fans missing the first ten minutes in protest at the 10 Catalan politicians jailed for their part in declaring independence.
Political chants have been a theme at Camp Nou all season, with loud cries for ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’ again heard throughout the game, together with a flags stating ‘Freedom for political prisoners’ and ‘Europe shame on you’ after a perceived lack of support for the Catalan independence cause.
The win meant Barça have won 10 and drawn one of their opening 11 league matches and stay four points clear of Valencia in second.
Alcacer’s former side have enjoyed their best ever start to a season and they meet Barca at the end of November, a game which will be the biggest in the Primera Liga so far this season.
If he keeps scoring, Alcacer might even play in it.
Updated: November 5, 2017 07:40 AM