Football Club Barcelona won the Copa del Rey at the Vicente Calderón tonight outclassing Athletic Club 3-0 with a display that gave Pep Guardiola a fitting finale to his fabulous four years as first team coach. Pedro Rodriguez scored twice with Leo Messi grabbing another in a breathtaking first 25 minutes which left Marcelo Bielsa’s team stunned. Guardiola’s first trophy was the 2009 Copa when Barça beat Athletic 4-1 at Mestalla and now the cycle comes to a close with Guardiola’s 14th trophy out of 19 competitions entered.
There may have been doubts in some quarters about how Barça would respond after nearly a month since playing an important match but in Guardiola’s years he has consistantly shown his ability to get players in the right frame of mind. Perhaps the players were sufficiently motivated by the desire to give Pep the right send off; whatever the case Barça came out brilliantly from the start with excellent touch and movement to take immediate control.
Bielsa surprised by leaving both Iturraspe and Ander Herrera on the bench, playing Ibai Gomez and Javi Martinez in midfield with Ekiza coming into defence but Athletic did not react well to the changes. After just 24 seconds Messi tried a curler that went just wide, then in the second minute Alexis fed Adriano’s overlap and when the cross came in Pedro’s effort was deflected wide by Ekiza. From Xavi’s corner Piqué flicked the ball on surprising Martinez who could only deflect the ball straight to Pedro who swept the ball home left-footed from twelve yards.
It was a fantastic start and Barça kept up the pressure. With Athletic’s man marking system both Piqué and Mascherano – when either was the extra man – were alert to bring the ball forward very quickly often creating a man over in midfield, both Xavi and Iniesta are masters at getting free from close markers and this also worked very favourably for Barça. Alexis was also working hard making some excellent diagonal runs which also caused the Athletic defence plenty of problems.
Messi came close to Barça’s second after 15 minutes, cutting in from the right before letting fly a terrific shot which needed an equally terrific save from Iraizoz to turn the ball round the post. The speed of Barça’s game led to players getting into space, in the 20th minute Iniesta had time to pick his pass into Messi who controlled with his left before firing right-footed high past Iraizoz from the corner of the goal area. For those who like statistics there could be a whole page written on Messi’s goals, but one that I like a lot is that in Guardiola’s twelve finals Messi has scored in ten, and of course those ten games all ended in victory.
Barça were now rampant, Piqué played the ball forward to Xavi on the edge of the area and Xavi knocked it back for Pedro to curl a beauty inside the far post. Three-nil and Athletic hadn’t troubled Pînto yet. This changed a minute later when Piqué’s clearance went straight to Susaeta who shot but Pinto saved well. then Messi might have made it four after Amorebieta missed a long clearance but Messi misjudged his lob allowing Iraizoz a simple save.
Athletic then had a reasonable shout for a penalty after it appeared that Piqué grabbed Llorente’s shirt but perhaps the Athletic target man allowed himself to fall too easily. After this Barça tried to reduce the speed of the game but it was not easy given Athletic’s continued high-tempo pressing game. Xavi had a volley wide and then there was an audacious attempt from Mascherano with a free kick from the halfway line but Iraizoz reacted in time. The first half ended with a poor kick from Pinto but the keeper then saved well as Muniain tried to sneak his cross inside the near post.
Athletic made a big effort early in the second half to try to grab a quick goal back, but Barça were generally very solid in defence. However, in the 52nd minute a pass inside Adriano gave Ibai Gomez a chance but his chip past Pinto also went past the far post. Montoya was more adventurous getting forward in the second half sending in one cross for Alexis to head wide, and soon after just overhitting a pass in to Pedro.
The game began to drop in level as it became clear that for all their effort Athletic were not going to turn the game around. Consequently there were fewer chances but we were treated to one remarkable run from Messi which began in the Barça half, Messi beat two opponents for speed in midfield, leaving them in his wake before beating two more as he dribbled into the area only to be denied at the end by Iraizoz’s outstretched foot. Athletic had one more chance when Aurtentexe got forward to head Ibai’s cross just wide but it was never going to be the Basque team’s day. It was a shame for Athletic and their magnificent fans to end a fine season with two final defeats but it really wouldn’t have been right for Guardiola to lose on his last match. The team rose to the occasion and gave another vintage performance. Guardiola deserved it. He also deserves his rest now. I hope he is happy with whatever he decides to do in the future but we have to hope that he returns to football very soon and also hope that he will be back at Camp Nou in one position or another in the not too distant future. The game will be poorer without him.
Barça: Pinto 7; Montoya 7.5, Piqué 8, Mascherano 8, Adriano 7.5; Xavi 8.5 (Fabregas m81, 6.5), Busquets 8, Iniesta 9; Pedro 8 (Thiago m87, –), Messi 8, Alexis 8 (Keita m73, 6.5).
Athletic: Iraizoz; Iraola, Elkiza, Amorebieta, Aurtentexe; De Marcos (Inigo Perez m46), Javi Martinez, Ibai; Susaeta (Ander Herrera m46), Llorente (Toquero m73), Muniain.
Goals: m3 Pedro 1-0. m20 Messi 2-0, m25 Pedro 3-0.
Yellow cards: m49 Susaeta, m43 Iraola, m66 Xavi, m71 Iniesta.