MADRID (Reuters) - Sevilla may have claimed three Europa League trophies in a row and enjoyed a blistering start to the 2016-17 campaign but on Sunday they were reminded by Barcelona of the gulf that still exists between the elite in Spain and the chasing pack.
While Atletico Madrid managed to interrupt the dominance of Barca and Real Madrid by winning La Liga in 2014, Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli knows his team is still a notch below them.
The former Chile manager replaced Unai Emery in the close season and has surpassed expectations in the first three months.
Before Sunday's 2-1 La Liga defeat by Barca, Sevilla had made a perfect start at their Sanchez Pizjuan stadium and also put themselves in a strong position to progress to the Champions League last 16 - something Emery's teams failed to achieve.
Although Sampaoli's side ground out a 1-0 home win over Atletico on Oct. 23, they still must prove they can overcome traditional heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Sevilla ran Real close before losing 3-2 in extra time in the European Super Cup on Aug. 9.
Barcelona then hammered Sevilla 5-0 on aggregate to win the Spanish Super Cup later that month.
In the latest meeting against Barca on Sunday, the quality of Lionel Messi was overpowering. The Argentina captain equalised before halftime with his 500th Barca goal and then set up Luis Suarez for the winner on the hour.
"Leo was crucial for his team," Sampaoli said on the club website (www.sevillafc.es). "When a player like that takes a game as seriously as he did, it's difficult to stop him.
"We put in an enormous effort and we generated a lot of danger but you end up with the feeling you did a lot of things but achieved nothing in return.
"But I hope we have the possibility to continue to grow against the big teams in this manner."
Sevilla, who need a point at home to Juventus on Nov. 22 to guarantee reaching the Champions League knockout stage, must wait until Jan. 15 at home to Real Madrid for another chance to tests themselves against one of the Spanish giants.
Reporting by Adriana Garcia, editing by Ken Ferris