Football Club Barcelona beat Valencia 2-0 at Camp Nou tonight to earn a place in the 2012 Copa del Rey final in May against Athletic Bilbao. Opponents Valencia put up a valient fight and were in with a shout well into the second half despite going behind to an early goal from Cesc Fabregas. However, Valencia’s Feghouli got himself stupidly sent off with fifteen minutes remaining and Xavi Hernandez put paid to Valencia’s dream with Barça’s second with just ten minutes to go.
Pep Guardiola once more left Dani Alves on the bench, preferring Carles Puyol at right back to deal with the threat of Jordi Alba and Matthieu. Mascherano partnered Pique in the centre of defence while we played without a recognised defensive midfield player with Xavi and Thiago alternating the role. Up front we played Cuenca on the left while Messi and Alexis roamed with neither really taking the role of right winger. We looked a bit unbalanced at the start and Valencia had the better of the early exchanges, again putting our defence under pressure in possession. The first chance fell to Aduriz after Matthieu headed down Banega’s free kick in the third minute but the forward who played due to Roberto Soldado’s flu failed to get proper contact.
Valencia didn’t allow us to settle and it wasn’t until the tenth minute that we managed an attack though Cuenca’s low cross was cut out. Feghouli gave Abidal a few early problems, in the 12th minute he got goalside to receive Matthieu’s pass from the left but the final shot went just wide. Then in the 16th minute we took the lead. Messi drifted back into our own half in search of possession, Valencia’s defence came very high which gave Fabregas the chance to make a spurt into space which Messi spotted with a long ball into the Valencia area, Fabregas held off Miguel and took advantage of Diego Alves’s hesitation to touch the ball over the advanced keeper into the empty net.
It was another game after the goal. Valencia have a very talented team but their centre backs and right back Miguel are not particularly comfortable on the ball. In the 19th minute Rami gifted the ball straight to Messi who then dribbled straight back past Rami but his shot couldn’t beat Diego Alves and Cuenca failed to find the target with the rebound. We were looking much more comfortable now and there was a fine move of one touch football which led to a foul on Messi 25 yards out. Xavi shaped to shoot but instead rolled the ball back to Messi who fired in a dangerous low shot but Diego Alves did very well to save despite being unsighted by the wall.
In the 31st minute Victor Ruiz got in the way of a ball he didn’t want to play and gifted the ball to Cesc in the area. Unfortunately Diego Alves was again very alert to save from Cesc’s shot. We ended the first half dominating things, Xavi tried his luck from 25 yards but the ball went straight at Diego Alves, and then Cesc made a fine run in from the right but his left footed shot brought yet another save fromn Alves.
However, we again suffered at the start of a half after the break. First, the excellent Jordi Alba got away from Puyol for speed to get a shot but Pinto saved the day, and then almost immediately after Pinto had to save again from Aduriz’s header. It seems we often have this problem of being put under pressure right rom the kick off, but as usual after a few minutes we settled down and dominated things in typical manner. Cuenca had been quiet on the left but in the 54th minute he cut inside before sending a great ball into Messi whose shot hit a defender before looping over the goalkeeper and coming down on the top of the crossbar before going out for a corner.
Messi came close to a wonder goal a couple of minutes later, showing tremendous acceleration to burst between two opponents, but as Miguel came across Messi was forced to stretch, and his toepoke was not enough to beat Diego Alves. Valencia weren’t out of it by any means, Aduriz got goalside of Mascherano before easing a lob over Pinto but Mascherano had time to recover and get back to head the ball clear. Then Victor Ruiz got caught in possession by Alexis, setting up Messi with another good chance but once again Diego Alves did enough to touch the ball wide of the post.
Valencia were forced to take risks now but Barça didn’t hold back with Piqué and Puyol popping up in attack. The final chance for Valencia came in the 73rd minute when Jonas received the ball at the far post at a corner but his drive was brilliantly tipped over by Pinto. Three minutes later, Feghouli put his arm across Puyol’s face and earned himself a stupid second yellow card which left Valencia with an almost impossible task of coming back with ten men. Not long after Barça took advantage of the growing spaces to score the second. Messi sent the ball forward to Alexis who held the ball up on the left before turning and passing back along the edge of the area where Cesc touched the ball on to Xavi free on the right and Xavi’s drive flew past Alves into the top corner to clinch the tie.
A final with Athletic Bilbao is always something special and I am delighted we have that to look forward to. The team looked better tonight despite the early problems in both halves. Piqué and Puyol both had very good games both in defence and getting forward, but if I have to choose a man-of-the-match for tonight it must go to Thiago Alcantara who again demonstrated a wide array of skills in midfield on a day when Xavi was not at his best. Things haven’t been all that pretty in recent weeks but we are still in all competitions and the signs are that we are coming back into form. On Saturday we are back to La Liga at Osasuna, another must-win game to keep up our challenge for the fourth consecutive league title.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this report to Fran, Quique, Frank, Victor, Edu and Ruben. All the best to you guys, you have my total respect.
Barça: Pinto 7; Puyol 8, Piqué 8, Mascherano 7, Abidal 6.5; Xavi 7, Thiago 8, Fabregas 7 (Iniesta m92); Alexis 7 (Alves m86), Messi 7.5, Cuenca 6.5 (Tello m89).
Valencia: Diego Alves; Miguel, Rami, V.Ruiz, J.Alba; Albelda (Parejo m85), Banega (T.Costa m69); Feghouli, Jonas, Matthieu; Aduriz.
Goals: m16 Fabregas 1-0, m81 Xavi 2-0.
Yellow cards: m22 Aduriz, m45 Feghouli, m51 V.Ruiz, m69 Fabregas, m76 Feghouli (2nd =red), m82 Thiago, m88 Dani Alves.