VALENCIA • Lionel Messi may " eat at his own table" as far as team-mate Jordi Alba is concerned, but Barcelona cannot afford to have the five-time Ballon d'Or winner continue to dine alone on the pitch without help from his supporting cast.
The Argentinian talisman spared the LaLiga champions' blushes as they ground out a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday, but their poor Spanish league run is causing concern for coach Ernesto Valverde.
Barcelona are without a victory in their last four league games, their longest winless streak since 2016, and Sevilla have now overtaken them at the top after edging past 10-man Celta Vigo 2-1 at home.
Valverde insisted: "This season, it feels like we have to come back in every game and are swimming against the current, but we know that this is going to change."
The Catalan giants were coming off an impressive 4-2 away win against Tottenham last Wednesday and were expected to continue their momentum at the Mestalla, but turned in a laboured performance against Valencia's massed ranks.
They fell behind in the second minute after dreadful defending from a corner allowed defender Ezequiel Garay to stab home from close range.
Barca eventually got a foothold in the game thanks to a superb strike in the 23rd minute from Messi, but the hosts' well-organised backline held strong.
Valverde admitted: "When the opposition sits back and defends well and together, it's difficult.
"I thought that we could resolve the situation. It was a hard-fought game, like always here."
In contrast, Sevilla are in a rich vein of form with their fourth win in a row taking Pablo Machin's men a point clear of Barcelona.
Celta Vigo's Nestor Araujo was sent off for two bookable offences after Pablo Sarabia had headed Sevilla into the lead. Wissam Ben Yedder then nabbed the second-half winner before Sofiane Boufal reduced the arrears.
In a highly competitive start to the league campaign, the top six are separated by only two points.
"I would like the season to end right now," said Machin, sitting at the summit of LaLiga for the first time in his career. "We know what we're capable of and I will try to keep this run going."
Atletico Madrid also joined Barcelona on 15 points after scraping a 1-0 home win over Real Betis with a late strike from substitute Angel Correa to climb into third spot.