There was no Leo Messi but goals from Thiago Alcántara, David Villa (2) and Alexis Sanchez gave Barça a 5-0 win over Cordoba to earn a place in the Copa del Rey quarter finals and a tie against Malaga over the next two weeks. Their was a price for the victory with injuries to Sergi Roberto and Villa which left the team playing the last fifteen minutes with ten men.
There were few surprises in Barça’s starting XI with plenty of changes from the team that beat Espanyol. Adriano had a recurrence of his ankle injury which meant Alves continued at right back with Montoya occupying the left side. It’s not quite clear why Marc Bartrá didn’t get a start but Puyol partnered Mascherano in central defence. Alex Song came in for Busquets and he was accompanied in midfield but the young pairing of Thiago and Sergi Roberto. Villa and Alexis started wide in attack while Cesc Fabregas was given another chance to play the false nine role.
Despite a two-goal advantage from the first leg in Cordoba, Barça showed no signs of taking the game lightly, pinning Cordoba back in their own half and forcing three corners in the first six minutes. Fabregas lobbed a pass through to Alexis with just 80 seconds on the clock but the Chilean forward began a frustrating first half, failing to clip the ball round the Cordoba keeper Mikel Saizar, and not long after Montoya forced another save with a 30-yard drive.
In the 12th minute Sergi Roberto made a neat little run on the let before slipping in Fabregas for a chance but Saizar had come out to narrow the angle and he saved Fabregas’s effort with his chest. However, the Cordoba keeper couldn’t keep Barça out for much longer. In the 17th minute Song sent a sidefoot volley pass onto Thiago who turned into the area and slotted the ball low inside the right-hand post.
Alexis might have made it two soon after but he failed to get enough height on his chip and Saizar stretched to save. But within thirty seconds Thiago had found Villa on the left and after dummying to cross the Asturian made a splendid two foot shuffle to skip past Alberto Aguilar and then from a tight angle scoop the ball over Saizar’s lunge for a magnificent goal.
Barça were really clicking now and soon after Villa added another. Alexis sent a ball left for the advancing Sergi Roberto who controlled before touching the ball back for Villa to send a powerful low shot from 15 yards that went in off the far post for his fifth Copa del Rey goal of the season. Barça might have had more soon after when in the space of three minutes Villa just failed to get onto Fabregas’s pass into the area, Thiago fired a 25-yarder onto the outside of the post, Alves blasted over after Fabregas’s neat back flick inside the area and Sergi Roberto’s stabbed shot was blocked after good work from Villa on the left.
There was practically nothing to be seen from Cordoba going forward with the most danger coming from Dubarbier’s cross in the 38th minute but Mascherano got back to head out for a corner. Barça continued to look for goal with Fabregas making a decent attempt to chip Saizar from 45 yards but the backpeddling keeper saved quite comfortably. Shortly before half time Thiago sent an excellent ball up the left touchline for Fabregas who galloped away before sending the ball across for Alexis who not for the only time of the night would slip at the most inopportune moment.
With the comfortable 3-0 scoreline at half time Jordi Roura opted to bring on Bartrá and Tello for the second half in place of Puyol and Fabregas. Just five minutes into the second half Sergi Roberto who had given a decent performance pulled up with a thigh injury and he was replaced by Johnathan dos Santos. Many in the 37,000 crowd chanted “Messi Messi” obviously hoping to see the four-time Ballon d’Or winner in one of his typical half hour substitution appearances. However, Roura saw it as more prudent to give Dos Santos a chance and there can be no doubt that the young Mexican needs the minutes more.
With Tello playing on the right wing Alexis moved to the centre forward role in the search for better luck. In the 53rd minute Tello sent the pass in for Alexis’s diagonal run, the Chilean’s first touch took the ball past the goalkeeper but he needed to turn the ball back towards goal from about 25 yards and despite the undefended target he sent his shot a yard wide. Alexis’s luck would finally change three minutes later. After Song’s delicate chip had been tipped over by Saizar, Thiago sent in the corner from the left and Alexis rose above Juan Fuentes at the far post to head home.
With 4-0 on the scoreboard we saw a period where Cordoba finally managed to force Pinto into some work. First he saved comfortably from Joselu’s drive but soon after he had more problems stopping Pedro Sanchez’s effort from 10 yards. Dos Santos fired a couple of long range shots off target and then Cordoba managed to hit the post after a scramble but the referee Alejandro Hernández Hernández had blown for a foul.
Soon after David Villa appeared to feel a hamstring twinge and after continuing for a minute or so took himself off, leaving Barça with a man less. Despite the numerical disadvantage Barça finished the game on a high. A deflection nearly helped Alves’s cross/shot loop under the bar but Saizar got back to save on the line under pressure from Alexis. Then in the 84th minute Thiago completed an excellent performance with the pass of the match from inside the Barça half which Alexis took brilliantly in his stride, but then after turning past Alberto Aguilar and taking the ball round Saizar he somehow managed to slip when it looked like an easy finish to what would have been a brilliant goal. Alexis managed to smile as he looked to the turf for something to blame. However, a minute later Alves found Tello free inside the left of the area and when Saizar dived to save Tello’s effort, Alexis was following up to rebound the ball in.
There has been a lot of talk about the pecking order of Alexis and Villa recently. With the team working so well with Iniesta playing left wing to accommodate Fabregas in midfield I think they might both accept not being a first-choice regular. However, when Fabregas was injured before Christmas it seems Villa and many fans couldn’t understand why Alexis was picked to come in. At the end of the first half tonight, with Villa grabbing two goals and Alexis only testing the patience of the fans, it would have been difficult to find many people to defend the Chilean. However, to his great credit he kept plugging away and he was eventually rewarded with his brace of goals. Whether Villa or Alexis can regain a first-choice position remains to be seen though they will both be important in the remainder of the season and it is better to have them both in scoring mood. There is still lots of speculation about what will happen with Villa in the summer but he demonstrated again tonight that there are few better finishers than him in the game and I would be happy for him to stay if he can be persuaded to play a Larsson-type role.
We now play Malaga three times in ten days. First at La Roseleda in La Liga on Sunday at 9 pm, then on Wednesday 16 January we play at Camp Nou in the quarter final first leg before the return in Malaga the following Wednesday (unless the TV decides a different schedule). In between the two quarter final games we have another league game, away at Real Sociedad on Saturday 19th (kick off 6 pm).
Barça: Pinto 6.5; Alves 7, Puyol 6.5 (Bartrá m45, 6.5), Mascherano 7, Montoya 7; Song 7.5, Sergi Roberto 7 (Dos Santos m52, 6.5) Thiago 8.5; Alexis 6.5, Fabregas 7 (Tello m45, 7), Villa 8.
Cordoba: Saizar; Fernandez, Armando, Alberto Aguilar, Fuentes; Lopez Silva, Lopez Garai, Caballero (Rennella m69), Dubarbier (Pedro Sanchez m60); Fede Vico (Abel m45); Joselu.
Goals: m17 Thiago 1-0, m22 Villa 2-0, m26 Villa 3-0, m55 Alexis 4-0, m85 Alexis 5-0.
Yellow cards: m63 Mascherano, m67 Montoya