The king is back. Long live the king! Leo Messi needed just over twenty-five minutes tonight to score twice on his return to action after two months out injured. Cesc Fabregas had put Barça 2-0 up in the Copa del Rey last 16 1st leg game against Getafe at Camp Nou. Messi then came on as a 64th-minute substitute for Andrés Iniesta but the Argentinian star waited till the final five minutes for his double strike to complete a 4-0 scoreline which leaves the tie heavily in Barça’s favour going into next Thursday’s second leg at the Coliseum.
Barça began the game with the same intensity as that seen in the impressive 4-0 win over Elche on Sunday afternoon. Pedro and Alexis supported by full-backs Montoya and Adriano and the ever-drifting Fabregas constantly threatened from the wings. In the fifth minute there was a good move between Fabregas and Pedro that won a corner on the left, and soon after Iniesta, Busquets and Fabregas combined to set up Alexis for a dangerous cross from the right that Rafa Lopez just managed to clear for a corner. The attacks kept coming with Pedro again sending in a decent looking cross from the left that Racing keeper Jordi Codina came out to punch clear, the ball came out to Busquets who fired a shot back that deflected out to Pedro who crossed again, this time finding Fabregas at the far post and the ex-Arsenal man sent his header back across Codina and inside the far post.
Barça were worth the goal lead but Getafe might have grabbed an equalizer in the 18th minute when Sarabia’s free-kick came to Valera at the far post but the Getafe full-back failed to make good contact and glanced his header wide. Barça didn’t look quite so solid at the back but the attitude and intensity of the team was good. Getafe’s defence looked panicked in possession by Barça’s high press but at times the attempt to play quickly led to some of Barça’s passing being imprecise.
Barça’s pressure led to a number of first half corners though the only one that proved dangerous was when Alexis’s cross found Puyol at the near post but the Barça captain glanced his header across the goal and wide. Then from a free-kick on the right Fabregas shaped to shoot but then whipped a quick low pass to the edge of the area where Iniesta tried the quick first-time pass into the danger zone but just failed to connect with Alexis.
Barça’s defensive weakness at set-pieces was demonstrated again in the 31st minute. Gavilan curled in a left-footed free-kick from the right and Juan Rodriguez beat everyone to the ball, flicking the ball goalwards only to be thwarted by a quick reaction save from Pinto. Barça reacted with more crosses into the Getafe box without finding a finish but despite dominating possession and territorial play Barça couldn’t prevent a couple more breaks from the visitors with Ciprian heading over from Gavilan’s cross and then Sarabia going on a solo-run before sending his hopeful 30-yard effort well over. The first half ended with Iniesta nearly surprising Codina with a snap shot from 25 yards but the Getafe keeper blocked the shot at his near post.
Barça came out strongly in the second half with better precision which soon translated into chances. The high pressing game was nearly rewarded in the 50th minute when Mascherano intercepted the ball, allowing Iniesta to find Pedro whose cross was looking for Fabregas’s run to the near post, Alexis Ruano got a slight touch on the ball which flew across the face of the goal and Alexis Sanchez diving in just failed to get his head to the ball. Five minutes later it was Alexis crossing from the right but Fabregas caught the ball too fully and sent the ball wide of the near post. Soon after, Alexis sent another low cross to Fabregas who played a lovely quick one-two with Sergi Roberto before firing a low shot straight at Codina.
There was less danger from Getafe in the second half as Barça generally controlled the situation but Sarabia had a chance for an equalizer with a quick shot in the 59th minute that Pinto had to be alert to. Two minutes later, with Messi preparing to come on as a substitute, Fabregas sent Pedro away on the left but after shaping to cross Pedro pulled the ball back drawing a foul from Valera. Referee José Luis González González pointed to the spot. Camp Nou called for Messi, what better than a goal with the maestro’s first touch? But Martino delayed the substitution, Fabregas blasted in an impeccable penalty and Barça were two-up.
Messi’s hour arrived and Iniesta was brought off to rest. All eyes were now on the Argentinian but he took a while to get going. He jogged around, waiting for his moment, there were a couple of ineffectual runs that came to nothing. He’d been on the pitch nearly ten minutes before his first moment of danger when Fabregas’s pass sent him into the area, he nearly lost control but managed to force the ball through to Alexis who fired a low shot that Codina moved right to block.
Getafe still managed one more dangerous counter when Diego Castro and Pedro Leon exchanged passes to reach the edge of the area with Diego Castro firing his shot narrowly past the upright. However, Messi now was moving up a gear. First he made a good run before finding Fabregas who then just failed to connect with Barça’s second substitute Cristian Tello. Then, Messi burst into the area on the left before flighting a cross which just evaded Pedro’s leap at the far post.
The crowd wanted a goal from Messi and he got a chance after being brought down for a free-kick, 25-yards out in the 87th minute. When Messi’s free-kick hit the wall it looked like Camp Nou would have to wait a bit longer to see a new goal from their hero. Messi had saved the treat for the end, with not just one but two goals to send the crowd home buzzing. In the 90th minute Busquets spotted Montoya’s run into the box, the full-back stretched to control the ball and managed to force it back to Messi who slotted it inside the post from ten yards. Maybe Messi saw the goal as too ordinary so he decide to score a better one before the end. Rafa Lopez misjudged the other Barça sub Alex Song’s pass, allowing Messi a run at goal from 40 yards out. The pace was there, the control as well, there were defenders running alongside him but none could get close to the ball. Messi went direct for goal and there was little doubt about the outcome, the assassin eyes set their sights and the left foot cracked a rocket that flew into the roof of the net.
Barça without Messi have made some praiseworthy performances in recent weeks with the other forwards such as Pedro, Fabregas and Alexis showing excellent form. Tonight’s man-of-the-match for me was Fabregas who turned up all over the place to great effect and two more goals to make him the fifth Barça player after Messi, Pedro, Alexis and Neymar into double figures for goals this season. However, I don’t mind admitting I have missed Messi in these two months, we only got a flash of his brilliance but it has certainly whet the appetite for the coming games. The second leg really should provide no problems despite the fact that we lost 4-0 at the Coliseum in the 2007 cup. Now we can look towards Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash at Atlético with little thought about the Copa.
There were not too many signs as to Martino’s planned XI for the Calderón. Today’s defence could all miss out with Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Bartra and Alba starting on Saturday, though Alves’s lack of games recently may play against him. Xavi and Busquets look the most likely to start in midfield with the third place going to Iniesta or Fabregas (how’s that for a tough choice?). The loss of Neymar today due to gastroenteritis just three days before the big game may push Tata towards picking both the in-form Pedro and Alexis in attack, while he can surely not be able to resist starting with the irrepressible Messi leading the line.
Barça: Pinto 7; Montoya 6.5, Puyol 6.5, Mascherano 7, Adriano 6.5; Sergi Roberto 6.5, Busquets 6, Iniesta 7 (Messi m64, 8); Alexis 7 (Tello m75, 6), Fabregas 8.5 (Song m80, 6.5); Pedro 8.
Getafe: Codina; Valera, Rafa Lopez, Alexis Ruano, Roberto Lago; Juan Rodriguez, Lacen, Diego Castro, Sarabia (Pedro Leon m70), Gavilán (Lafita m65); Ciprian (Colunga m77).
Goals: m8 Fabregas 1-0, m63 Fabregas (pen) 2-0, m90 Messi 3-0, m93 Messi 4-0.
Yellow cards: m57 Gavilan, m85 Montoya, m87 Juan Rodriguez.