A week ago, Barça suffered their first loss of the campaign to their city rivals Espanyol, Óscar Melendo coming from the bench and scoring at the last moments of the game.
The particular loss didn’t hurt as it wasn’t a deficit Barça couldn’t overcome, but the insults towards Piqué and the players, with projectiles being thrown at Cillessen made it personal for Valverde’s men.
Barça lined up in a 4-3-3 with Cillessen between the sticks, the return of the imperious centre back partnership of Piqué and Umtiti flanked by Sergi Roberto and Alba. Sergio Busquets patrolling the area in front of the back four, Rakitic and Iniesta the interiors. Lionel Messi as false 9, Vidal occupying the right flank with Suarez in the left half space (between the centre and wide areas of the pitch) often drifting central for through balls or crosses, but dropping deep to help defend.
The 4-3-3 would turn into a 4-4-2 while defending, with the two backs of 4 narrow and compact. Once Espanyol channeled the ball wide, it triggers the pressing as Messi and co use the touchline as an extra man.
The first half was a display of control as at the half our mark, Barça had over 81% of possession to Espanyol’s 19%. The first goal came from a Messi interception, putting Vidal through for the latter to put a pinpoint cross for El Pistolero’s diving header, the 2nd came from the right flank as well as Messi got dispossessed before he got it back and took a shot from outside of the box that took a slight deflection, enough to send Pau Lopez the opposite way.
2-0 at half time, control well established but one goal from The Pericos would see them through to the semi finals. One would only expect more goals from Barça, but it didn’t happen mainly because of Espanyol’s stubborn pragmatic approach and (yet again) poor refereeing from Mateu Lahoz, who sanctioned Suarez, Messi and Paulinho for protesting repetitive fouls and poor decisions (mainly knocks to Iniesta and Leo), while Espanyol players protested all they wanted.
The game was also marked by Coutinho’s debut, who came in for Iniesta and put up an impressive 25 minute cameo, showing great understanding with Jordi Alba and Messi, while also not being afraid to take on his man. A heart warming moment was when executed a perfect La Croqueta (Iniesta’s signature) with his second touch of the game.
The game ended with Barça players managing the time left, holding up the ball and playing a few passes down in their own half to lure the opposition out. With a 2-1 aggregate win, Barça advances to the semi finals of the Copa Del Rey for the 8th consecutive season to face one of La Liga’s finest performers, Marcelino Toral’s Valencia.
Could Valverde’s men go for a third Treble?
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