Football Club Barcelona cruised into the last sixteen of the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 victory over Alaves at Camp Nou tonight. Alaves took a surprise early lead when Borja Viguera headed in after 16 minutes but Adriano equalized twenty minutes later before David Villa put an end to Alaves’s dream with two second half goals in the space of three minutes to earn Barça a 6-1 aggregate win and a tie against Cordoba in the next round.
It was somewhat disappointing that neither Gerard Deulofeu nor Carles Planas made the starting lineup, both began on the bench along with Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Oier Olazabal. Of course there were youngsters, but players we have seen a bit more of, Montoya continued at right back, Sergi Roberto and Johnathan Dos Santos played the Xavi-Iniesta roles in midfileld, Tello started on the right wing while the novelty was to see Thiago Alcantara playing Messi’s false nine role.
It has to be said that the team started sluggishly. Alaves defended in a 5-3-2 formation and the little early threat that Barça could offer came from the overlapping full backs Adriano and Montoya. Thiago has plenty of skill which allows him to maintain possession under pressure but he doesn’t have the same instinct for goals as Messi and he was rarely seen inside the penalty area.
Alaves showed as early as the second minute that they had talent to threaten Barça’s defence. Luismi broke into the area and Song slid across, in a similar play to the penalty given against Puyol on Sunday, and Alaves were unfortunate that this time the referee saw the handball as unintentional. On 14 minutes Miki had the first attempt on target with Pinto diving to save the 30-yard shot comfortably. However, Barça did not take the warning. Two minutes later Dos Santos dribbled himself into a corner before sending a poor clearance up the touchline that only went as far as Miki who whipped in a cross which caught Montoya and Pinto hesitating and Viguera nipped in behind Montoya to head past Pinto and inside the far post.
Barça tried to wake up but Alaves were euphoric now. A minute later and Pinto and Montoya were again in a muddle to deal with a long ball, Pinto darted out of his goal but failed to clear and was somewhat lucky that Viguera got caught offside. Little by little Barça started to work their way into the game but it wasn’t until the 29th minute that Thiago gave 19-year-old Sergio Herrera something to do, though his weak chip was easy for the Alaves keeper.
A minute later Adriano gave Herrera a better test with a 25-yard drive but the keeper beat the ball out for a corner. Barça raised the tempo with Villa dribbling in along the byline but Herrera was alert to block Villa’s progress. Barça’s pressure soon led to the equalizer. Song fed Dos Santos who played the ball out to Adriano on the left, the full back moved inside before stabbing a quick square pass inside to Thiago while finding another gear to dart into the area, gaining a yard on Alaves right back Oscar Rubio, to receive Thiago’s return pass and slide the ball under Herrera. It was Adriano’s fourth goal of the season which added to the three scored by Jordi Alba makes it seven goals from the left back position this season.
Barça failed to build on the equalizer in what remained of the first half but in the second half David Villa began to enter into play more with his typical effectiveness. In the 50th minute Dos Santos threaded a pass through which left Villa with only Herrera to beat but the young keeper was out quickly to save with his legs. Thiago continued to have more of an impact by coming deep. In the 54th minute he chipped the ball over the top for Tello’s run and Manu Garcia was booked for a clumsy challenge on the edge of the area. Villa stepped up and sent a subtle floater over the wall and curling away from Herrera’s dive into the corner. It was a fitting goal for El Guaje’s 300th professional goal.
Before Alaves could react Villa had added another. Again it was Thiago who spotted the pass through to Tello who unselfishly squared for Villa to score in the empty net. There was little more in the last half hour though we did get twenty minutes or so of Deulofeu and a debut for Planas. Deulofeu failed in his first couple of attempts to get past his man and it looked like we would not see anything special. However, the youngster came alive in the dying minutes, almost surprising Herrera with a disguised chip from the right wing that came down on the top of the net, and then a crazy dribble into the area that finally lost direction.
Last season Barça beat L’Hospitalet 9-0 in the same round of the cup but tonight we had to settle for a 3-1. Alaves were organised in defence but we failed to really put them to the test tonight as the rhythm was not as high as when Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are playing. The role of Thiago was interesting as he didn’t get into the area much yet was extremely effective playing the important pass in all three goals. The rest for our key players will be important as they will all be needed for our next test, against Athletic Club in La Liga on Saturday.
Barça: Pinto 6; Montoya 6, Puyol 6.5 (Fabregas m79 –), Mascherano 6.5, Adriano 7 (Planas m73, 6.5); Sergi Roberto 6.5, Song 6.5, Dos Santos 6 (Deulofeu m68, 6.5); Tello 6.5, Thiago 7.5, Villa 7.5.
Alaves: Herrera; Oscar Rubio, Javi Hernández, Luciano, Agustín, Manu García; Miki, Jaume Delgado, Jonan García (Sergio Llamas m80); Luismi (Guzman m67), Viguera (Barahona m67).
Goals: m16 Viguera 0-1, m35 Adriano 1-1, m56 Villa 2-1, m58 Villa 3-1.
Yellow cards: m10 Delgado, m54 Manu Garcia.