FC Barcelona secured their place in the Copa del Rey Round of 16 as a 3-1 win on the night at the Camp Nou ensured a 6-1 aggregate win overall against Segunda B2 leaders Alaves. The visitors took the lead through Borja Viguera's excellent headed effort after a nice cross from Miki, but the Blaugrana responded as an equaliser from Adriano Correia was followed up by a second-half brace from the returning David Villa.
Tito Vilanova made a plethora of changes to the side that defeated Levante 4-0 at the Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday, as Carles Puyol was the only player to keep his place in the starting XI. Of course, many of Barcelona’s key players were being rested for this rather "pointless" fixture, but the Blaugrana team was still as strong as ever. Martin Montoya, Puyol, Javier Mascherano and Adriano started in defense, with Alex Song just ahead of them at pivote. Sergi Roberto and Jonathan dos Santos completed the midfield, while Thiago Alcântara started in attack alongside Cristian Tello and the returning David Villa.
Unusually, the match started rather hectically as both sides look to catch the other off-guard in the opening minutes and Alaves nearly did just that but their penalty appeal (for handball against Alex Song) was turned down. Barcelona quickly recovered to take control of possession, but they were struggling to create any clear-cut chances without the likes Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi on the field. Sure, they were creating space on the flanks and Martin Montoya was attempting to the cut the ball back to David Villa but it was rather predictable and the Alaves defense were coping admirably with the pressure.
Just over a quarter of an hour had passed at the Camp Nou and Alaves were not only level but they were holding their own against their illustrious hosts and maybe, just maybe the comeback was within reach as poor defending from the Blaugrana gifted Alaves a way back into the tie. The cross came from the right-hand side and Miki, who found the run Borja Viguera at the far post and the Spaniard guided his header past Jose Manuel Pinto with expert precision to give Alaves an unexpected lead at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona to be blunt just did not look good enough. Granted, they were keeping possession adequately well, but they were creating very little against their third-tier opponents and considering all the talent on the field, that’s almost inexcusable for a club of Barcelona’s calibre. Jonathan dos Santos in particular was looking a little lost in midfield, while Sergi Roberto was virtually anonymous throughout the first half. Maybe it was Thiago’s position as the false nine, or maybe it was complacency; whatever the case, Barca could count themselves lucky to only be behind by a single goal. Both Montoya and Puyol were struggling to adapt to Pinto’s goal-keeping style and the latter appeared to lose his cool in an uncharacteristic outburst – probably more out of frustration at the score-line than at Pinto. However, things were about to pick up for the home side as Adriano tied the score with 35 minutes on the clock. Cutting in from the left-hand side, Adriano played the ball inside to Thiago who picked out the Brazilian’s intelligent run with a simple through ball and the full-back displayed great composure to slot the ball past Sergio Herrera.
Adriano’s goal ensured that Barcelona headed into the break level with Alaves on the night, but with a 4-1 aggregate lead. Surely it wouldn’t be long before Tito made a few changes?
The second-half started quietly, although the intentions were there – especially from David Villa who looked determined to return to scoring form. While his one-on-one effort was denied by Herrera El Guaje quickly made amends with a delightful free-kick before the hour-mark. Cristian Tello won the free-kick, which was just left-of-centre and roughly 20 yards from goal. It was certainly a dangerous position, but even so, it was going to take something special to score – which is exactly what David Villa delivered. Striking the ball with the instep of his right boot, Villa curled the free-kick right into the top-corner of Herrera’s goal, and Barca finally had the lead.
Credit to Alaves though, they were not going to accept defeat without a fight and they looked to have equalised just minutes later courtesy of Oscar Rubio’s tap-in at the far-post, but the assistant referee had raised his flag for offside. Replays indicated that Rubio was well onside when the cross was played, although the assistant may have had a problem with Borja Viguera who looked to be obstructing Pinto’s view and Carles Puyol from an offside position. A harsh decision, but ultimately the assistant may have made the right call.
Unfortunately, the visitors luck didn’t improve after the call either as Barcelona quickly extended their lead with David Villa grabbing his second of the night after selfless play from Cristian Tello. With Barca now comfortably ahead, both on the night and on aggregate, Tito decided to make his substitutions as Gerard Deulofeu replaced Jonathan dos Santos, Carles Planas was brought on for Adriano and bizarrely Cesc Fàbregas took Puyol’s place in the final change of the night. This forced Barcelona into a few tactical switches, as Thiago moved back to midfield, while Alex Song moved back into defense with Cesc Fàbregas taking his place as the holding midfielder. Barca looked content to play out the final stages of the game with the ball, and aside from a couple of moments of magic from Gerard Deulofeu who nearly caught the keeper out with a cheeky effort from the corner of the area and Alex Song (at the defensive end), the final ten minutes or so passed without anything significant to note.
Next up for the Blaugrana are Athletic Bilbao who travel to the Camp Nou on Saturday, while Barca will face Cordoba in the next round of the Copa del Rey. Visca el Barca! Oh, and don't forget to vote in our player ratings poll :)