Barça reached the Copa del Rey Final this evening with a 1-3 second leg win at Villarreal to complete an aggregate semi-final score of 6-2 overall. It was always going to be tough for Villarreal to overturn the two-goal deficit from the first leg and it got tougher for Marcelino’s men when Neymar opened the scoring tonight after just three minutes. Ex-Barça midfielder Johnathan dos Santos gave Villarreal a glimmer of hope when he equalised on the night shortly before half-time. However, Tomas Pina’s sending off twenty minutes into the second half ended the home team’s chances and Luis Suárez and Neymar with his second of the night completed the scoring with late goals. Barça’s victory was dampened by an ankle injury to Sergio Busquets which according to initial predictions could see the midfielder out for around a month.
Luis Enrique surprised by including Montoya and Rafinha in the starting XI while both Mascherano and Suárez also started despite the threat of missing the final with a yellow card. The game could not have started better for Barça. In the third minute Suárez received on the left and sent a long cross-field ball that found Messi on the right and the Argentinian clipped a pass brilliantly between the centre-backs for Neymar to run on to and the Brazilian stuck out his left foot to divert the ball past Asenjo.
Villarreal now needed to score three just to take the game to extra-time and Barça tried to keep things calm with possession football. However, the cautious approach from Barça meant a lot of the possession was closer to Ter Stegen’s goal than to Asenjo’s and soon Villarreal were robbing the ball in dangerous positions with Busquets, Rafinha and Iniesta all getting caught in possession in the first ten minutes.
Cheryshev shot twice off target and Vietto sent a header too close to Ter Stegen then in the 17th minute Pina sent a fine pass through for Uche to fire into the side-netting. Montoya was looking exposed and unsupported against Costa’s surges forward and Barça were finding it difficult to break out. Ter Stegen needed to make a good right-handed block to stop Cheryshev’s angled shot and only Piqué was looking tuned in in the Barça defence.
There was one shot from Iniesta at the other end after a great pass from Messi but Ruiz got in the way and deflected the ball for a corner. Barça began to wake up a bit but it wasn’t until the 37th minute that another chance came when Suárez sent Neymar through but Mario got back to make another block.
Two minutes later Pina forced the ball forward to Cheryshev who held off Piqué’s challenge to open the play to Costa on the left, Montoya failed to close down and Costa crossed to the far post where Johnathan arrived unmarked to stab the ball past Ter Stegen. Busquets received a painful blow just above the ankle trying to stop Pina in the build-up to the goal and the midfielder was replaced by Mathieu. The momentum of the game suggested Villarreal might pull off the comeback but Barça held out until half-time without further problems.
After the break Villarreal came out searching for a second goal. Vietto headed wide from Cheryshev’s cross and Ter Stegen had to dive to stop Musacchio’s header after a centre from Mario. However, Barça looked more solid with Mathieu alongside Piqué and Mascherano in midfield and the yellow threat began to fade. Messi had one of his quieter games but he offered one explosive run between Costa and Trigueros and a shot that forced a flying save from Asenjo.
In the 64th minute Luis Enrique brought on Xavi in place of Rafinha with the intention of more control and then within a minute of the substitution Villarreal were reduced to ten men when Pina received a straight red card for a clumsy tackle from behind on Neymar. This inevitably made the task much easier and Barça capitalized on the numerical advantage with goals from Suárez, sent through by Mascherano’s long pass, and Neymar with a header after Xavi’s cross.
This was another game with a better result than performance but it’s good to see we can still beat a very good opponent and score three goals when not playing so well. It’s a blow for us to lose Busquets at such a crucial time of the season but it will now give a chance for Mascherano to take the defensive midfield role that many feel he can do better than Sergio. The Champions League and the Clásico at Camp Nou will provide a stiff test. Barça will now face Athletic Club in the final on May 30, a repeat of the 2009 and 2012 finals. Can’t wait for all the fun and games as they try to agree on the venue.
Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz, Costa; Johnathan dos Santos. Trigueros (Moi Gomez m74), Pina, Cheryshev (Campbell m69); Vietto, Uche (Giovani dos Santos m62).
Barça: Ter Stegen 6.5; Montoya 5.5, Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 7 (Rakitic m76, 6), Alba 6; Rafinha 5.5 (Xavi m64, 6.5), Busquets 5.5 (Mathieu m42, 7), Iniesta 6; Messi 6.5, Suárez 7, Neymar 7.
Goals: m3 Neymar 0-1, m39 Johnathan dos Santos 1-1, m73 Suárez 1-2, m88 Neymar 1-3
Yellow cards: m36 Johnathan dos Santos, m38 Cheryshev, m50 Piqué, m82 Campbell.
Red card: m65 Pina.