Barça reached the Copa del Rey semi-finals tonight with a splendid 2-3 victory over Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón stadium. All the goals came in a thrilling first half with Fernando Torres cancelling out Leo Messi’s first leg goal after just 39 seconds. Neymar equalised to put Barça 2-1 up on aggregate but a questionable penalty gave Raul Garcia the chance to put Atlético back in front on the night. A Miranda own goal and a second breakaway goal from Neymar gave Barça an aggregate 4-2 win overall.
Luis Enrique put out the same XI that won 1-0 in the first leg last week and Barça would need to recover from a very early blow. It was expected that Atlético would press high early on but there seemed little danger when Alba took a throw-in back to Mascherano, and less when Mascherano cleared long towards the right wing before Torres could close him down. However, Siqueira reached the clearance before Messi, sending a volleyed pass straight back to Torres who’d continued his run into the space between Barça’s centre-backs. Mascherano tried to get across but Torres skipped past him and unleashed a low shot into the corner that gave Ter Stegen no chance.
With the tie now level Atletico might have resorted to a more defensive formation but with the Calderón baying for more, the home team continued with a high pressing game. Barça fans know the dangers of the high press well: if the opponent gets past the first line of pressing they can then exploit the spaces left. Atlético suffered the consequences in the ninth minute when Messi, who’d dropped deep into his own half, nipped skilfully past Mario Suarez’s challenge and sent a pass up the line to Suarez. the Uruguayan controlled superbly before knocking a pass inside to Neymar who had a two-yard advantage on Juanfran as he sped for goal. One touch took the Brazilian into the area then an angled shot across Oblak into the far corner gave Barça a vital away goal.
Neymar’s goal meant Atlético needed to score twice to go through but the home team showed no sign of weakening, at least not yet. There were chances at both ends, Torres headed wide from a corner, then a long Ter Stegen kick sent Neymar through and although the ball ended up in the net again the goal was disallowed incorrectly for offside. Mascherano had to be alert to tackle Griezmann, then Torres found his strike-partner but Ter Stegen got behind the Frenchman’s shot.
The game was fast and furious but it was Barça trying to soak up the Atlético pressure rather than the other way round. Alves and Alba were positioned more defensively than usual and in contrast it was Atlético’s full-backs that were getting forward. In the 29th minute Juanfran got past Alba on Atlético’s right and Mascherano came across to cover, Juanfran knocked the ball past Mascherano before clattering into him and falling inside the area. It hardly looked a foul and the replay showed it was six inches outside the box but referee Gil Manzano continued his calamitous performance by pointing for a penalty. Ter Stegen guessed the right way but Raul Garcia’s spot-kick was too powerful and now Atlético were again just one goal from qualification.
The atmosphere was electric but Barça again reacted swiftly to conceding. Iniesta was seen little in midfield as Barça looked for the direct ball to the forwards, but in the 37th minute he sent a great ball in to give Rakitic a chance but Giménez got across to deflect the shot away for a corner. Rakitic took it from the right, Busquets flicked on a header at the near post and Miranda, distracted by Suarez, lashed the ball into his own goal.
It was a fortunate break for Barça and a couple of minutes later there was another controversial incident that left the Atlético players furious. Siqueira got past Alves to cross and Griezmann hit a goal-bound shot that struck Alba on a raised arm. There’s no doubt that Alba’s reaction was instinctive and it all happened very quickly. Whether or not the referee saw it clearly is unclear but he waved play on and the ball bounced away to Rakitic who quickly moved the ball forward to Messi. The Argentinian set off on a typical mazy run up the right, waiting for his moment to send the killer pass. Neymar made a diagonal run which dragged Juanfran out of position and Messi found Alba making a late sprint into the space. Alba screwed the ball back to Neymar who beat Oblak with his first touch before scoring his second of the night into an empty net.
Things boiled over as the players went off for half-time when Juanfran and Raul Garcia took offence at Neymar’s grinning face. Torres got involved and had to be held back by Busquets and the incident continued in the players tunnel and Gabi was given a straight red card which left Atlético a man short and needing three goals now to go through.
It wa a shame really because the second half lacked the excitement of the first. Barça now took control of possession and reverted to the game of right-to-left-then-left-to-right to tire the Atlético players. It was all very competent and there was only one second-half attempt on Ter Stegen’s goal, a powerful strike from Cani which the German keeper parried before Piqué headed clear. At the other end Barça showed little ambition for more goals with Messi sending the best chance softly at Oblak. However, the Argentinian combined well throughout in the build-up play and sent one extraordinary pass through for Iniesta, only for Gil Manzano to miss Miranda’s tug on Iniesta’s shirt.
Atlético were reduced to some nasty late challenges as the only way to stop Barça’s flow. Mario Suarez left his team with nine men for the final minutes after two yellow cards for catching Busquets and Messi which meant a total of seven yellow and two red cards for the home side compared to two yellows (Messi and Alves) for Barça.
After last season’s problems against Atlético it seems Luis Enrique has found the formula to beat Simeone’s team. The first half tonight was very complicated but we bounced back from the blows of the early goal and the dodgy penalty, and even the blow from the linesman’s flag across Jordi Alba’s head. It might have seemed that everything was going against us but we showed excellent character under pressure and earned the good fortune which accompanied the two goals before half-time.
Atlético: Oblak; Juanfran (Gamez m58), Miranda, Giménez, Siqueira; Raul Garcia, Mario Suarez, Gabi, Arda (Cani m63); Griezmann (Ñiguez (h/t), Torres
Barça: Ter Stegen 6.5; Alves 7, Piqué 7, Mascherano 6.5 (Mathieu m62, 6.5), Alba 7; Rakitic 7.5 (Rafinha m70, 7), Busquets 7, Iniesta 6.5; Messi 8, Luis Suarez 7, Neymar 8,5 (Pedro m77, 6.5).
Goals: m1 Torres 1-0, m9 Neymar 1-1, m30 Raul Garcia (pen) 2-1, m38 Miranda (o.g.) 2-2, m41 Neymar 2-3.
Yellow cards: m14 Raul Garcia, m43 Messi, m48 Arda, m69 Mario Suarez, m74 Alves, m75 Siqueira, m84 Giménez, m84 Mario Suarez (2nd), m86 Cani.
Red cards: h/t Gabi, m84 Mario Suarez