Goals from Ivan Rakitic, Andrés Iniesta, Pedro and Rafinha earned Barça a comfortable 0-4 win over Huesca in the first leg game of the Copa del Rey tonight. The victory leaves classification for the last 16 almost certain where Barça will face the winner of Valladolid and Elche.
Luis Enrique left Bravo, Alves, Piqué, Alba, Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi, Messi, Suarez and Neymar in Barcelona while taking four Barça B players with the squad of whom Munir El-Haddadi started in attack along with Pedro and Rafinha, and Sergi Samper played the defensive midfield role behind Rakitic and Iniesta. Douglas, Bartra, Mathieu and Adriano formed the defence, while there was no chance for Jordi Masip as Luis Enrique preferred to give another game to Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
The midfield pairing of Rakitic and the returning Iniesta proved to be too strong for a valient Huesca side and within sixteen minutes the pair had fired Barça 0-2 up. In the 12th minute Munir was brought down in a central position ten yards outside the penalty area and with no Messi or Xavi to take the kick Rakitic curled his shot brilliantly round the wall and inside the keeper’s left-hand post. Four minutes later and it was Stamford Bridge all over again as Iniesta received a square pass, this time from Rakitic not from Messi, and drove a superb strike, this time past Dani Jiminez not Peter Cech.
Despite the evident difference in quality between the sides Huesca must be given credit for playing throughout with the ambition of scoring a goal. Winger Josan was particularly impressive and Huesca managed 14 shots in total to Barça’s 26 though most of the home team’s efforts were hopeful long shots. There was some danger on the Barça goal: Ter Stegen kicked a clearance against the onrushing Guillem and was fortunate to see the ball fly across goal to safety, and the German keeper made amends with a good save with his feet to deny Guillem. Late in the second half an awful sliced clearance from the unfortunate Douglas went straight to Guillem and there was a moment of panic as three attempts were blocked by the Barça defence.
However, throughout the game Barça made occasions at the other end. Rakitic fired another free kick against the opposite post and the Croatian midfielder also had a deflected drive loop narrowly over. Pedro made it 0-3 five minutes before half-time after a short corner on the left came back to Iniesta who sent a quick ball into Pedro who nipped inside past one challenge before shooting low inside the near post.
The second half remained entertaining thanks to both continuing to play openly and intensely. There were appearances for Sergi Roberto and Sandro as substitutes and also for Edgar Ié to make an accomplished 25-minute debut at centre-back. Sergi Roberto began the move that led to Barça’s fourth goal, finding Rafinha who cut inside from the right and beat Jiminez with the help of a big deflection.
The positives tonight were mainly in midfield. Iniesta returned from injury and completed the 90 minutes without problem, while scoring a cracker and showing flashes of his class, Rakitic had his best game in a while and demonstrated his dead-ball ability with those two first-half free-kicks, and Samper gave another polished performance which will again draw comparisons with Pep Guardiola as a player. The negative, unfortunately, was again Douglas, in only his second game. I was hoping to say that he wasn’t that bad compared his his game at Malaga but then he gave that horrible pass near the end that leaves one almost wondering if perhaps he is some kind of an imposter just claiming to be a top-quality full-back (surely poor Montoya who couldn’t even get a game tonight, is better).
The first team squad have the day off tomorrow before starting preparation for Sunday’s local derby with Espanyol at Camp Nou.
Huesca: Dani Jiminez; Aythami, Alex Garcia, Carlos David, Morillas; Iñigo Ros, Camacho; Gassama (Sosa m57), Tyronne (Cabezas m62), Josan (Esnaiser m72); Guillem.
Barça: Ter Stegen 6.5; Douglas 5, Bartra 7, Mathieu 7 (Edgar Ié m64, 7), Adriano 6.5; Rakitic 7.5 (Sergi Roberto m64, 6.5), Samper 7, Iniesta 8; Rafinha 6.5, Munir 6.5 (Sandro m76, 6), Pedro 7.
Goals: m12 Rakitic 0-1, m16 Iniesta 0-2, m39 Pedro 0-3, m72 Rafinha 0-4.
Yellow cards: m18 Mathieu, m19 Josan.