If you enjoyed last Sunday’s victory over Atlético Madrid, put next Wednesday in your diary as Simeone’s men are coming back to Camp Nou for the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. Atlético drew 2-2 at the Bernabeú to send out Madrid 4-2 on aggregate then Barça completed a 9-0 aggregate win over Elche with a 0-4 victory at the Mañuel Martinez Valero stadium tonight.
Given the five-goal advantage from the first leg Luis Enrique rested the entire starting XI that beat Atlético giving a start to the not-so-regulars while offering a chance to Barça B players Munir El-Haddadi, Adama Traore and 20-year-old Gerard Gumbau who made his first team debut in the defensive midfield role.
Barça dominated the game from start to finish with the players showing an excellent work-rate in pressing and in recovering formation whenever the ball was lost. Adama and Rafinha were the most effective players in one-against-one situations while Montoya also got forward dangerously from right-back. Gumbau had a comfortable game and was involved, along with Mathieu and Rafinha in getting the ball to Adama before the foul that led to the first goal. With no Messi, Xavi or Rakitic in the team the free-kick was taken by Mathieu. The ball was about 28 yards from goal and the Frenchman struck a perfect curler over the wall and into the top corner.
Adama made a great chance for himself but then pulled his shot wide. Then in the 40th minute Montoya got forward again and slipped the ball inside to Sergi Roberto who hit a belter from just outside the area that flew inside the far post. Barça were rampant now. A minute later Bartra played the ball forward for Montoya who broke into the area before finding Munir who tried to squeeze between two defenders but was clipped by Edu Albacar and the referee signalled a penalty. Captain for the day Pedro took the responsibility and sent Manu Herrera the wrong way from the spot.
Alen Halilovic was given a debut coming on along with Douglas for the last half hour. Both subs had their moments, Halilovic made space to fire a shot that hit the base of the far post while right-back Douglas provided the cross for left-back Adriano to head in the final goal in injury time.
It must be said that Elche also fielded a team without several regulars and their level was pretty ordinary. Ter Stegen didn’t need to get his knees dirty until a double diving save near the end but he did show some confidence and style coming out of his area to intercept a forward pass with his chest before sending a volleyed 30-yard pass straight to Pedro out on the left. The German keeper also showed he has no problem coming right to the edge of the penalty area to punch clear a free-kick though he also sent a couple of erratic clearances straight into touch.
This was a solid team performance and the serious attitude again suggested that Luis Enrique does not have a problem with the dressing room. Individually, Munir was again disappointing though he did win the penalty while Adriano had an off-night but his insistence paid off with his goal at the end. Montoya seems to have forgotten his intention to leave and he gave a decent performance except for a slightly under-hit header back to Ter Stegen but I’ll give the man-of-the-match to Mathieu for his goal and a solid performance dealing with the few Elche attacks.
Barça now face four games in quick succession over the next two weeks. It’s Deportivo away in the league on Sunday at 7 pm followed by the Cup quarter-final first leg with Atlético next Wednesday at 10 pm. We then return to Elche in the league the following Saturday at 6 pm before the second leg at the Calderon on Wednesday 28 January also at 10 pm for a place in the cup semi-finals.
Elche: M. Herrera; Peral, Lombán, Pelegrín (Fajr m80), Edu Albacar; Gálvez (Enzo Roco m69), Pasalic (Adrian Gonzalez m63); Coro, Álvaro, Fragapane; C.Herrera.
Barça: Ter Stegen 6.5; Montoya 7 (Douglas m62, 6.5), Bartra 6.5, Mathieu 7.5, Adriano 6; Sergi Roberto 7, Gumbau 6.5, Rafinha 7; Adama 7 (Halilovic m62, 6.5), Munir 5.5, Pedro 6.
Goals: m21 Mathieu 0-1, m40 Sergi Roberto 0-2, m43 Pedro (pen) 0-3, m92 Adriano 0-4.
Yellow cards: m20 Albacar, m29 Peral, m64 Adriano