Barcelona travelled to face Valencia in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey holding a one-goal lead over their hosts after they won 1-0 in the first-leg. With Barcelona walking to a title in the league, the knock-out competition has become one of the few pieces of silverware up for grabs for the Spanish teams not still in European competition.
The match started with Barca dominating the ball but seeing the majority of the chances fall to their hosts. Rodrigo hit the bar as Francis Coquelin and Geoffrey Kondigbia missed chances in the first-half. However, as the game wore on it seemed as though Barca would make Valencia regret their missed chances, and they did just that. First, Philippe Coutinho came of the bench to net the opener before Ivan Rakitic made it 3-0 on aggregate and knock Valencia out at the semi-final stage.
Valencia battled hard throughout but they found it difficult to maintain the level they had found in the first-half. Barcelona on the other hand were sent through to the Copa del Rey final where they will play Sevilla as they look to stamp their dominance in Spain by claiming yet another trophy.
Domenech with a shaky start
Barcelona have so much power going forward that they do not need to be given a helping hand in front of goal, however, they will take one with both hands if they are presented with a chance. Valencia would have therefore been determined to stay compact against the La Liga leaders who have netted 60 times already.
This desperation to stay solid at the back starts with the goalkeeper, or so it should, but Valencia’s Jaume Domenech clearly had other ideas. First of all, he decided to attempt a spectacular punch from a Lionel Messi free-kick when it would have made more sense to catch the ball. His second indiscretion was one that should have resulted in a goal though.
The goalkeeper decided to keep ahold of the ball for far too long as he tried to dribble around Luis Suarez inside his own box. The likes of Manuel Neuer and Marc Andre ter Stegen are superb on the ball, but even the two Germans would not be foolish enough to take a man on in their own box.
Domenech survived that moment of madness with Valencia allowed to breathe again, but the crowd, who had been making the stadium rock in the opening stages, were ever so slightly silenced by this.
Valencia threaten early on
Barcelona had dominated the early stages of the game with the ball as has become synonymous with their style. However, they were second best when it came to chances.
First, Francis Coquelin unleashed a low drive that Jasper Cillessen was forced to grasp before Rodrigo almost equalised. Jose Gaya was able to spread the ball to Rodrigo and the forward’s header beat Cillessen before hitting the crossbar to the disappointment of the crowd. Rodrigo then sent in a powerful drive that the Barcelona goalkeeper was able to palm away from goal. Coquelin then displayed exactly what Arsenal will be missing as he played a sublime pass with the outside of his foot into the path of Kondogbia, but the midfielder could only smash a shot into the side netting after cutting back inside.
La Liga’s leaders have looked incredibly comfortable all season, but they were teetering at the Mestalla as their hosts threatened to unleash their full power on them. Perhaps the visitor’s preference to keep the ball and slow everything down was actually hindering them as Valencia continued to create chances.
Coutinho steps off the bench to open the scoring
Following his mega-money move from Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho will have been hugely disappointed to have seen that he would start on the bench for the semi-final. The Brazilian has been looking to make his mark on the team and was given the chance as he made his way onto the field at half-time as Andre Gomes went off.
Suarez was once again the architect of Barcelona’s success as he displayed the fact that he is not just a goal scorer. He was outstanding on the left-flank as he fired in a perfect cross to Coutinho at the back post who slid in to volley his effort into the back of the net via the ground.
The finish was a superb one as the angle was incredibly tight and it was clear on his face and in his celebration just how important his first goal for Barcelona was to both the player and the team. It was entirely against the run of play when taking into consideration how the first-half had gone, and the bouncing atmosphere in the stadium was dealt a hammer blow as the home team were facing the prospect of needing three goals to go through to the final.
The goalkeepers trade superb saves
Domenech hardly covered himself in glory in the first-half, but he was at his best to deny Messi in the second-half. Following Coutinho’s goal, Barca were looking to rub salt in the wound with another finish and a chance fell to the one man in world football no goalkeeper wants to come up against. From point blank range Messi was given a chance but Valencia’s goalkeeper displayed his superb reactions to keep the ball out of the back of his own net. It was a top save and made up for his moment of madness in the opening 45.
However, the best was yet to come. Cillessen had largely been a spectator in the second-half, but he was called into action, making a save of some class. Gaya was given far too much time and space in Barcelona’s box and he struck a firm shot that was goal bound until Cillessen somehow diverted the ball away from goal after throwing an arm out. The save was one that was all about his reactions as he maintained Barcelona’s 2-0 aggregate lead.
While Cillessen may not get much of a look in with ter Stegen around, he was showing just how good Barcelona’s second-choice goalkeeper is.
Suarez makes it 2-0
And just like that, it was a nightmare for Valencia. All of their promise in the first-half was dashed as they conceded a second goal of the night to make it 3-0 on aggregate. Luis Suarez was once again the architect as he embarked on a trademark run before riding a tackle and squaring it to find Ivan Rakitic, who knocked home to make it 2-0.
It was a typical Suarez run as he displayed his superb agility and Rakitic showed fantastic opportunism to turn up in the right place at the right time. It seemed incredible to think back to the first-half where Rodrigo had hit the post. Had the Valencia star been wheeling away in celebration then this game would have been an entirely different one. As it was, Barcelona had two on the night, three in the tie, and they are through to an eighth Copa del Rey final in 10 seasons.
Valencia: Domenech 7 – Montoya 6, Gabriel 6, Garay 6 (Vezo 6), Gaya 6 – Parejo 6, Kondogbia 6.5, Coquelin 7 (Guedes 6) – Vietto 6, Zaza 6, Rodrigo 6 (Soler 6).
Unused subs: Maksimovic, Neto, Lato, Mina.
Barcelona: Cillessen 8 – Roberto 7, Pique 7 (Mina 6), Umtiti 7, Alba 7 – Gomes 6 (Coutinho 7.5), Rakitic 8, Busquets 7, Iniesta 7 (Paulinho 7) – Messi 7, Suarez 8.5.
Unused subs: ter Stegen, Semedo, Alcaer, Vidal, Mina.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco
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