Copa del Rey champions Football Club Barcelona cruised to a 0-3 victory over Deportivo Alavés on a cold night at Mendizorroza tonight in the first game in defence of the trophy. David Villa gave Barça the lead shortly before the break and then second half goals from Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas gave Barça a comfortable margin to take back to Camp Nou for the second leg in four weeks’ time.
Tito Vilanova demonstrated that he takes the Copa seriously by putting out a very strong side with only one player, Sergi Roberto, from Barça B in the starting XI, though the inclusion of Busquets as the defensive midfielder rather than Alex Song who needs minutes to improve, was a little surprising. Dani Alves returned at right back which saw Martin Montoya switch to the left, while Marc Bartrá got another chance alongside Javier Mascherano in the middle of defence.
Barça offered little going forward in the first half with few attempts to break through the middle of the defence. Most of the time we worked the ball wide, usually to Alves who sent in a variety of crosses with no luck. Alexis started promisingly with a dribble into the right of the area by the goal-line but his cross went right across the goal and Villa was still out on the left when he received the ball and his shot was blocked.
It was a frustrating time for the two wide forwards as they both know the competition for these places is fierce. One of Alves’s crosses found Alexis in a good unmarked position but his header from ten yards lacked power. Villa then sent a 25-yarder well wide before Alexis, this time under pressure from the defence headed another Alves cross wide. Alexis then fired a low shot from 20 yards that forced Alavés keeper Urtzi Iturrioz into his first diving save.
There was little seen from Alavés going forward apart from two or three wayward shots but Barça weren’t doing much more with much more of the ball. Bartrá headed Cesc’s free kick wide and then Alexis tried his luck with a shot from the left but he didn’t get enough curl on the ball. With time running out in a disappointing first half Iniesta sent a ball into Villa, the defender missed it and Villa made a good first control and then despite a funny bobble on the pitch he whipped in a powerful shot that crashed against the underside of the bar before bouncing over the line for a goal.
The main danger from Alavés came from Guzman on the right wing and early in the second half he had Alavés’s best chance after running at Mascherano but Montoya did enough with a last ditch challenge to force Guzman to shoot wide. However, soon after Fabregas robbed the ball on the right of the Alavés penalty area and after a quick pass to Alexis the ball came on to Villa who laid it back for Iniesta to demonstrate his class with an exquisite chip from outside the area that gave Urtzi no chance.
Alexis continued to have poor luck when he finally netted a cross from Villa he was incorrectly given offside. However, Barça were now in a comfortable position and the game was under control. Song was brought on in place of Busquets who played an excellent 55 minutes winning the ball back for us. Alavés began to open up more which led to more space and more chances to make counter attacks. The best came through Fabregas, Villa and Alexis who laid the ball on to Alves, haring into the area, but his low cross was just out of Villa reach at the far post.
Tello and Dos Santos came on for the two goalscorers Villa and Iniesta, but the pattern of the game remained the same. Sergi Roberto showed his talent with one ridiculous run that led to a double shooting chance for Alexis but Urtzi managed to continue to deny the Chilean with a double block. Fabregas had a more inspired second half, coming into the game more and more. Near the end he sent a fine ball through for Tello but after cutting inside one defender his shot was pushed away by the diving Urtzi. Then in the 88th minute the indefatigable Alves got forward again to receive Mascherano’s long pass before delivering a peach of a cross that left Fabregas with a fairly simple task of heading in from two yards at the far post. Tello had another chance that he sent disappointingly wide and then right at the death Pinto had to make his only important save of the game to deny Guzman.
The game was about as comfortable as you could expect and the performance was solid if far from inspiring. The defence was generally very good with Montoya demonstrating he can do a competent job at left back despite being faced with the dangerous Guzman. Busquets gave another masterclass of positioning, simple passing and winning the ball back in midfield though Sergi Roberto wasn’t quite as involved as I’d like to see. It was a bit frustrating for the forwards though Villa was rewarded with a goal and Alexis never gave up despite some poor luck. Hopefully now in the second leg we will see a chance for some more of the B team youngsters such as Deulofeu and Rafinha. It will be the best way to keep some interest in a tie that seems to have been sewn up tonight.
Alavés: Urtzi Iturrioz; Rubio, Javi Hernández, Agustín, Manu García; Beobide, Jaume Delgado; Guzman, Jonan García (Luismi m71), Asier Barahona (Sendoa m71); Viguera (Sergio Llamas m82)
Barça: Pinto 6.5; Alves 7.5, Bartra 7, Mascherano 7, Montoya 7; Sergi Roberto 6.5, Busquets 8 (Song m55, 6.5), Iniesta 7.5 (Dos Santos m75, 6); Alexis 6, Fabregas 7, Villa 6.5 (Tello m70, 6).
Goals: m40 Villa 0-1, m51 Iniesta 0-2 m88 Fabregas 0-3.
Yellow cards: m62 Guzman, m82 Luismi.