Barcelona coasted to a Manita victory over Cordoba at the Camp Nou on Thursday night, as goals from David Villa (2), Alexis Sánchez (2) and Thiago Alcântara inspired the Blaugrana to victory. Thiago in particular put in a strong performance, and was unlucky not to add another goal or two to his tally, although he did grab a couple of assists. It wasn’t all plain sailing though; both Sergi Roberto and David Villa were forced off in the second half through injury.
Jordi Roura opted to field a starting XI with a mixture of youth and experience tonight, as veterans such as Carles Puyol and David Villa started alongside some of La Masia’s brightest prospects, including Sergi Roberto and Thiago Alcântara. Cesc Fàbregas started as a false nine, with Alexis Sánchez stationed out on the right-flank, while Martin Montoya was preferred ahead of Jordi Alba at left-back. Alex Song was also granted a rare start at pivote; could the Cameroonian impress the Camp Nou crowd?
Barcelona started well, and within seconds of the start the Blaugrana began to create chances. A nice ball over the top of the Cordoba defense found the run of Alexis Sánchez, but the Chilean could only stab the ball at Mikel Saizar for an early corner. Predictably, the corner was cleared at the first time of asking and it appeared as though the chance was gone. However, the ball was only cleared as far as Martin Montoya, who tested Saizar with a well-struck volley from the best part of 25 yards. Saizar – who isn’t even a regular for Rafa Berges – found the shot too hot to handle, but recovered to collect the loose ball.
Barca were beginning to up the tempo and it was clear that Cordoba were struggling to cope. A Messi-esque dribble from Sergi Roberto brought the Camp Nou crowd to their feet; and despite threading a pass through the eye of a needle to Cesc Fàbregas, Barcelona still couldn’t find their opener. Saizar was playing out of his skin, saving everything the Blaugrana threw at him. At least he was saving everything.
Plucking the ball out of the air after a pass from Alex Song, Thiago proceeded to drive into the area and slot the ball past the previously unbeatable Mikel Saizar. The difference was clear to see; Thiago kept his composure in front of goal, and it paid dividends. Now Barcelona were a goal to the good – and three goals ahead on aggregate – surely there was no way back now for Cordoba?
Absolutely not. Barcelona were in the mind to put on a show tonight, and a show is what we got. Thiago pushed the ball out wide to David Villa, who exhibited superb skill to skip past a defender – especially so close to the byline. The angle was absurdly tight, not that it made any difference to Villa, who lifted the ball past Saizar and into the far corner or the net. It was a magnificent finish, but El Guaje has never been one to rest on his laurels and he wasn’t about to start today – scoring his second just minutes later.
This time Sergi Roberto got the assist, teeing the ball up nicely for Villa who fired the ball into the back of the net, via the post, with his first touch. Barcelona were running away with it now, and it appeared as though a rout was on the cards. Thiago nearly helped himself to a second goal, but had to watch as his long-range effort rattled off the post and out for a goal-kick. Villa again supplied Thiago with a chance, but this time the midfielder’s shot was blocked in what turned out to be the final "chance" of the half. Barcelona, 3-0 ahead on the night, and 5-0 up on aggregate were cruising to a quarter-final tie with Malaga.
Jordi Roura made two changes at the interval, replacing Carles Puyol with Marc Bartra, while Cesc Fàbregas made way for Cristian Tello. Roura was forced into making his final substitution early in the second half as well; Jonathan dos Santos came off the bench to replace the injured Sergi Roberto.
Barcelona weren’t quite playing with the same intensity as they were in the first half, but they were still creating chances. Alexis Sánchez did well to round the challenge of Saizar, who had come an awful long way to miss his challenge, although even with an open goal the Chilean couldn’t catch a break. Admittedly, the angle was difficult, and he must have been off-balance, but it was a disappointing effort from Sánchez. Alex Song nearly atoned for that miss with an audacious left-footed lob, but Saizar back-tracked quickly enough to tip the ball out for a corner kick.
No-one could have predicted what would happen next though; Barcelona, a team renowned for their intricate play in the final third, simply lumped the corner in (well, Thiago lifted the ball into the area) and Alexis Sánchez, the diminutive Chilean – who has gone what feels like eons without a goal – rises above the Cordoba defense to head home Barca’s fourth goal of the night. It was a surreal goal, but one that Alexis richly deserved.
David Villa put in an excellent shift tonight, but unfortunately El Guaje couldn’t complete the 90 minutes, pulling up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. It’s a cruel blow for Villa, who could have started on Sunday against Malaga – and still could I suppose – though it seems more likely that he will sit out the next week or so on the sidelines. That meant that Barcelona were down to ten men for the remainder of the game, not that it helped the visitors. Thiago saw another shot go close, as this time the Spaniard hit the roof of Saizar’s net from the left-hand side of the penalty area.
Thiago then turned provider, lifting the ball over the Cordoba defense to find the run of Alexis Sánchez. It was a perfect pass, and Sánchez took the ball down beautifully to close in on goal. Holding off the challenge of the Cordoba defender, Alexis again rounded the keeper, but this time his boots conspired against him – and he slipped over before he could grab his second of the night. However, Lady Luck finally shined on Alexis as he somewhat fortuitously bundled home the rebound after a shot from Cristian Tello. It was Barcelona’s fifth of the night in what turned out to be a comfortable home victory.
Next up, Barcelona travel to La Rosaleda, where they will face Manuel Pellegrini’s Malaga. Visca el Barca!