Another two goals from the irrepressible Leo Messi put Barça on the road to a place in the Copa del Rey quarter finals after a 0-2 first leg victory at Cordoba. There is no holding back from the little Argentinian who took his goal total for 2012 to 88. The English language has run out of adjectives to describe the player while a maths degree may soon be necessary in order to calculate all of Messi’s goals, averages and records.
Despite facing a top-of-the-table clash with Atlético Madrid on Sunday Tito Vilanova showed the utmost respect for Cordoba, putting out a very strong team. However, the intense approach of Cordoba caused us some awkward moments early on. When our defence is pressed in this way it helps to have the cool heads of Valdés and Busquets to keep our passing game going at the back. Tonight they were two of the rested players, and while both Pinto and Song are decent enough substitutes they don’t move the ball quite so quickly, and with neither Alves nor Mascherano in his best moment this led to our early problems.
After just five minutes Pinto sent a poor kick up the middle that was intercepted and in a moment Cordoba’s Pedro Sanchez had fired a shot from 30 yards that our keeper did well to tip over. The home side were encouraged and a minute later Fede Vico shot wide after a cross from Dubarbier. Thiago responded for Barça by cracking a 25-yarder against the top of the post and as play continued Pedro cut inside before slipping the ball through to Villa who was free on the left but instead of shooting the Asturian squared for Messi to finish messily into the open goal off the underside of the bar. If Messi had missed the chance as the ball bobbled just before he hit it, it would have gone down as one of the worst misses ever. However, it seems the footballing gods are still smiling on him and he got away with this one.
The goal calmed things a bit though Rennella had the ball in Barça’s net soon after only to be correctedly called offside. Thiago at the near post nearly sneaked one past Saizar and Villa was unlucky not to get a penalty after a good turn past Gaspar. Cordoba continued to cause us problems with their pressing game and it wasn’t until just before half time that Barça created another chance after Messi broke away from three players in midfield before playing it left to Alba, when the ball came back to Messi there were too many defenders and despite fighting for every bounce off the opponents’ legs and the bumpy pitch eventually had to settle for a corner.
The second half was easier to control for Barça despite Cordoba again getting the first shot on goal with Caballero’s 30 yard effort going straight at Pinto. The game began to open up for Barça with first Xavi threading the ball through to Pedro who despite a good first control fired his volley just over, and then Messi finding Villa on the left but the striker was losing balance as he shot, sending the ball well wide. Soon after, Song’s decoy run allowed Messi to find Pedro on the right but his last shot before being replaced by Alexis went straight at Saizar.
Cordoba were running out of steam and Piqué was again very good cleaning up at the back. In the 69th minute he broke up an attack before charging up the field, holding off challenges and then sending Messi clean through on goal, though Saizar came out and held his ground well, forcing Messi into shooting straight at him. However, you can’t deny Messi for long. In the 74th minute Song and Xavi worked the ball to Messi on the halfway line, Messi touched it on to Thiago who pushed the ball out to Alexis on the right, when his cross came in, Messi had continued his run into the area to finish a fine move.
There was little more for Cordoba but their magnificent fans continued singing to the end. There was one more chance for Messi, sent through this time by Song, but with the close attention of a defender on each side of him Messi couldn’t get much power on the shot which hit Saizar’s shoulder.
The two-goal advantage means we should be able to take the second leg a little easier. Given the excellent showing from Cordoba perhaps Vilanova was right to play such a strong team. It is always complicated to make these decisions and no doubt if Messi or Xavi had been injured then there would have been some criticism aimed at the coach. In a hard-fought cup-tie there were a couple of knocks for Villa and Alba which might have been more serious but it seems they will all be fine for Sunday.
Cordoba: Saizar; Fernandez, Gaspar (Damian m82), Alberto Aguilar, Fuentes; Lopez Garai, Caballero; Pedro Sanchez, Fede Vico (Ayina m88), Dubarbier; Rennella (Patiño m63).
Barça: Pinto 7; Alves 6 (Montoya m78, 6), Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 6, Alba 6; Xavi 7, Song 6, Thiago 6; Pedro 6.5 (Alexis m66, 6.5), Messi 8, Villa 6.5 (Tello m84, 6).
Goals: m11 Messi 0-1, m74 Messi 0-2.
Yellow cards: m34 Dubarbier, m63 Fede Vico