Barcelona scored three times in 21 minutes in the second half as they beat relegation-troubled Sevilla by 3-0 at Camp Nou on Sunday. With the win, Barca move eight points clear at the top of the LaLiga table ahead of second-place Real Madrid.
Raphinha created the second for Gavi and then added the third himself from Alba's cross to complete the scoring and extend Barca's winning streak in all competitions to seven games, their longest since the 2019-20 season.
1. Barca open commanding lead at the top of LaLiga
Barca took full advantage of Real Madrid's surprise 1-0 loss at Mallorca earlier on Sunday to move firmly into the driver's seat to win LaLiga. After a first half in which they failed to break down a Sevilla side that sat deep, Barcelona opened the floodgates after the break.
Alba broke the deadlock after a brilliant pass from Kessie, who had replaced the injured Sergio Busquets earlier in the game. That was the only downside for Barca here. With Manchester United in the Europa League around the corner -- and Ousmane Dembele already injured -- they could do without losing any more players.
Once in the lead, Barca began to enjoy themselves. Jules Kounde's long pass found Raphinha in the 70th minute and the Brazilian's clever pass set up Gavi for the second. Raphinha completed the scoring himself after good work from Frenkie de Jong and Alba.
It marks a remarkable 12 months for Barca under manager Xavi Hernandez. At this stage last season, Barca were 17 points behind leaders Real Madrid, albeit with a game in hand. Now, they are eight points clear and a first league title since 2019 is very much within their sights.
2. Signings Raphinha and Kessie get their moment
While Robert Lewandowski, Andreas Christensen and Kounde have seamlessly slotted into this Barca side, there has been more scrutiny on fellow summer signings Raphinha and Kessie. Both impressed against Sevilla, though, with performances would could signal a turning point in their Barca careers.
It looked like it could be another inconsistent evening for Raphinha in the first half, but he was brilliant after the break. He was involved in all three goals and started to play like a player with confidence. Sevilla could not stop him for a short period of the game.
As for Kessie, he has hardly been afforded any game time to prove himself. Busquets' knock gave Kessie a chance on Sunday to come on after five minutes, and he responded well. He displayed nice footwork throughout the game, helped in defence and attack and produced a Ronaldinho-esque pass to set up Alba's goal.
3. Sevilla still in a scrap at the bottom
With a back five, the first half must have been one of the most defensive performances of coach Jorge Sampaoli's career. It worked, though, and they got to the break goalless having limited Barca to an xG of 0.22.
However, once Alba opened the scoring, they completely lost their way. Forced to look for an equaliser, they were found wanting at the back time and again. In the end, they could have conceded more than three. Sevilla, who started the campaign in the Champions League, looked like what they are: a team just two points clear of the bottom three.
Their three recent wins were against the teams currently in the relegation zone, Getafe, Cadiz and Elche. Beating those teams around them will be the key to staying in the division now and starting afresh next season.
Best and worst performers
Best: Raphinha, Barcelona
Came alive in the second half with a goal, an assist and several runs for his YouTube highlights reel.
Best: Jordi Alba, Barcelona
His crosses looked like Barca's best bet for a goal in the first half. Scored and assisted after the break.
Best: Franck Kessie, Barcelona
Perhaps his most significant performance since he joined from AC Milan last summer.
Worst: Oliver Torres, Sevilla
Completed just 10 passes in the first half and was taken off at halftime.
Worst: Nemanja Gudelj, Sevilla
The defender lost an aerial battle with Gavi in the first half and his way after Barça's opener.
Worst: Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla
Lucky to stay on the pitch against his former club for a late, red card-worthy challenge on Ronald Araujo.
Highlights and notable moments
In the 58th minute, Barcelona scored a well-worked goal via Jordi Alba with a nice through-ball assist from Franck Kessie.
It was Alba's first goal for Barca this season in all competitions.
Jordi Alba puts Barcelona in front!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 5, 2023
What a ball from Kessie 👏 pic.twitter.com/3Qf2FhazoS
Then, in the 70th minute, another goal came for Barca from a player who hadn't yet scored in LaLiga this season: Gavi.
The 18-year-old was in the right spot to tap in Raphinha's cross.
First goal in that No. 6 for Gavi ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/bxgNuiGM0N— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 5, 2023
Raphinha wasn't content to just be an assister on the day, notching his own goal nine minutes later.
The goal was Raphinha's fourth goal for Barcelona in LaLiga this season.
Massive goal for Raphinha! 👏 pic.twitter.com/qxsAXKh48J— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 5, 2023
After the match: What the managers and players said
Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez on their performance: "We didn't allow Sevilla to react. We went for the second goal. I think the team's effort was clear today, how they worked, pressed, the hunger they had... the teams closest to us had slipped up this weekend and it was a big win."
Xavi on Barcelona leading Real Madrid by eight points on the table: "It's not definitive, not at all, but we are in a privileged position. There is still a long way to go but it's good to be top and to have the advantage we have."
Xavi on Raphinha's performance: "I was already happy with Raphinha despite the criticism there had been. He's a generous player, really intense in the press. Now he's adding decisive goals and assists. We're talking about him because he's scored in two games running and it seems he's standing out more, but he has been doing it all season."
Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli on the result: "We held Barca off in the first half but in the second half we needed more. We didn't keep hold of the ball. When you have to chase the opposition so much at a ground like this, you end up paying for it. That is what happened after the break."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Barcelona have now won seven straight games across all competitions, their longest such streak since the 2019-20 season.
The last time Barcelona led LaLiga by 8 or more points was the final match day of 2018-19 season when it won the title with 87 points, 11 above Atlético Madrid (Real Madrid finished 3rd with 68).
Jordi Alba scored his first goal this season in all competitions.
Gavi scored his first LaLiga goal this season, and his third of his career.
Raphinha has five goals in last 12 games after starting the season with just one goal in his first 17 matches for Barcelona (all competitions).
Barcelona have failed to score in the first half of their last four matches in all competitions (Barcelona's opponents have also been unable to score in the first half in that span).
Barcelona: Barca head on the road next weekend to face Villarreal on Sunday, Feb. 12 (stream live on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET). Then Barcelona host Manchester United in the first leg of a UEFA Europa League tie.
Sevilla: Los Nervionenses host Mallorca on Saturday, Feb. 11 (stream live on ESPN+ at 12:30 p.m. ET).