Barça earned a narrow 1-0 win over Atlético Madrid in tonight’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg at Camp Nou. The game was intense throughout but looked to be heading for a goalless draw until referee José Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez spotted Juanfran’s foul on Busquets and awarded a penalty with just over five minutes to go. Leo Messi saw his spot kick saved by Atlético keeper Jan Oblak but he followed up to score from the rebound to give Barça the advantage going into next Wednesday’s second leg at the Calderón.
Luis Enrique continued with an unchanged team except for Ter Stegen replacing Bravo in goal, and Barça began the game with the same high tempo we saw ten days ago in the league meeting. The busy Ivan Rakitic continued in good form in midfield while Messi looked very tuned in on the right, but it was Neymar who first tested Oblak with a curler for the far corner in the fourth minute but the keeper dived to get a hand to the ball and turn it out for a corner.
Messi had his first chance after a good build-up in the twelfth minute, reacting quickly to Rakitic’s pass but then firing right-footed over the bar. It was an excellent start from Barça but as the minutes passed Gabi and Arda imposed themselves in midfield and began to find Griezmann and Torres. In the 26th minute Arda had Atlético’s first shot on target but Ter Stegen saved comfortably.
Siqueira was also causing problems when he pushed forward on the left and in the 35th minute his cross gave Griezmann a chance but the Frenchman sent his header over the bar. If this was Atlético best chance of the half, Barça’s came a minute later when the high press forced a poor Atlético clearance which fell straight to Rakitic who volleyed a pass into Suarez who was eight yards out but the Uruguayan striker flashed his shot over. There was a final moment of danger from Atlético before half-time when Torres led a break but Piqué managed to get in the way of his pass which would have put Griezmann clean through.
Mandzukic replaced Torres at half time but with little effect. Barça gained more control and suffered less at the back in the second half but there was still the problem of scoring a goal to deal with. Atletico were defending well with Miranda and Godin controlling Suarez, Juanfran headed clear to deny Neymar a chance from Suarez’s cross and later when Iniesta and Alba had shooting chances both shots were blocked by the packed defence.
Raul Garcia came on for Griezmann but Atlético’s attack was now well controlled by Piqué and Mascherano. However, the clock was ticking down and there were few opportunities for Barça at the other end. Iniesta tried his luck again but sent his shot straight into Oblak’s arms and with thirteen minutes remaining Luis Enrique made his first substitution, bringing on Xavi in place of Rakitic.
Barça were in danger of losing the plot when Suarez and Mascherano were both booked for protesting the referee’s decisions. However, the ref did see Siquiera’s foul on Messi about eight yards outside the area and Barça were awarded a free-kick. Messi fired his shot against the legs in Atlético’s wall but nobody cleared the ball which fell to Busquets who was lurking behind the wall and Juanfran made a clumsy challenge and Gonzalez Gonzalez pointed to the spot.
Messi must have felt the pressure with the victory depending on his penalty. He fired his shot too close to Oblak but the keeper was diving left, away from the ball, and could only stop the shot with a flailing right hand, knocking the ball straight back to Messi who scored comfortably from the rebound. Bartra was brought on for Iniesta to bolster the defence but there was no coming back from Atlético. Messi had another chance at the end with a free-kick on the edge of the area but he curled his shot narrowly over.
Barça: Ter Stegen 7; Alves 7, Piqué 8, Mascherano 7.5, Alba 6.5; Rakitic 7.5 (Xavi m77, 6.5), Busquets 6.5, Iniesta 6 (Bartra m87, –); Messi 7.5, Luis Suarez 6, Neymar 6.5.
Atlético: Oblak; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Siqueira; Arda Turan, Mario Suarez, Gabi (Raul Jiminez m87), Koke; Fernando Torres (Mandzukic h/t), Griezmann (Raul Garcia m66).
Goal: m85 Messi (pen) 1-0.
Yellow cards: m45 Juanfran, m78 Luis Suarez, 80 Mascherano, m84 Mandzukic, m84 Gabi, m91 Godin