Hello there once again Cules, I would be lying if I say I didn’t expect a comeback in the 2nd leg against Espanyol. Not only did I expect this performance but it was an absolute treat to watch us dominate our neighbours, who did nothing but chase our shadows all game. We had complete control of the ball, dictated the pace of the game and stretched them left-right alternatively. It was impossible for them to stop us from creating chances right from the first minute and it was a very satisfying revenge, although it could have been 3-0 or even 4-0 had we put away our chances clinically. We have also reached the Copa del Rey semifinals for the eighth season in a row, our longest run in the competition reaching this stage.
For those who didn’t watch the game, the major highlights of the game were these
- Aleix Vidal:
All of a sudden, it looked like Vidal has been playing as a regular along with Roberto all through the season as the two set the right wing on fire right from kick-off. Adding fuel to the fire was Lionel Messi drifting to the right numerous times to overload that side and release Vidal behind the opposition’s back four. Messi’s awkward positioning towards the right drew Espanyol players narrow allowing Roberto & Vidal to make frequent runs behind the back four of Espanyol. This is exactly what happened for the first goal as Vidal was released by Messi before a sublime cross by Vidal to Suarez.
While even the second goal was owing to Vidal who helped us regain possession near the box before Messi picked up the loose ball and scored. (Lucky deflection though)
- Superb defending:
The most difficult task in a game wherein if we concede one, we have to score two more to go through is to ensure that we don’t concede. With players like Messi, Suarez and Iniesta as teammates, it is always a challenge for the defenders to grab the spotlight but this was a game in which our defenders needed to step up to ensure we have a cleansheet and they did exactly that. The entire back-four but especially Pique & Umtiti put up excellent performances and didn’t allow Espanyol to even have a sniff at goal. The only chance that they had was immediately after we scored the first goal and even that was arguably a half-chance. There were no clear-cut chances created by Espanyol and full credit to the two to have kept them at bay knowing that the opponents were going to counter-attack at every opportunity.
- Midfield Masterclass:
I believe this was the biggest difference between the first leg and the second leg. Valverde opted to go with the good old ‘Rakitic-Busquets-Iniesta’ midfield trio and the three were a major reason why we were able to have the upper hand through out the game. The player who stood out for me is none other than Ivan Rakitic. The Croat put in an excellent showing in the weekend against Betis and it only got even better in this game. He was involved in defending, dictating the game, spreading the play and attacking. An example of his quality was evident when he found Messi with a cross curving-in from the right and the latter hitting the post.
Rakitic stats vs Espanyol:
Touches: 109 (most by any player on the pitch)
Pass Accuracy: 92.6%
Tackles won: 1
In my opinion, Rakitic was the man of the match without a shadow of a doubt.
- Coutinho makes a mark: Coutinho was lucky enough to make his debut in this game as it was the game with the highest attendance (79,774) at the Camp Nou after the Super Cup against Real Madrid earlier this season. The crowd were all behind the Brazilian and every time he touched the ball was greeted with an ‘Ole!’. In a team like Barcelona, it isn’t easy to be off to a great start given at the tempo in which the likes of Messi, Suarez, Iniesta combine with each other. It could have been a fairy-tale debut for Coutinho as he was a tap-in away from his first assist but Suarez failed to make proper contact from about 6 yards out. What we can be sure of is that the high expectations from the Brazilian is justified and from what we saw in this game, it gives me a feeling that he’s going to live up to it.
Busquets: Espanyol celebrated at Cornellà as if they had reached the semifinals, but it’s us who are going to play the semifinals.
Coutinho: It’s definitely a special day for me to start my career with this shirt, it’s a dream for me. The most important this was that we won this game. The crowd welcomed me well, I’m happy.
I was a bit nervous and anxious, but later I calmed down and adapted to the game. I am very happy to have played my first minutes with this club. I was moved by my reception.
Jordi Alba: Lionel Messi plays at another level, he is the best in the world.
Coutinho also fits into the perfectly, no doubt.
Elimination of Real Madrid ? I was not surprised at all.