Barcelona were far from their best on Thursday evening, but still had enough to see off a spirited challenge from Malaga and win 4-2 on the night (6-4 on aggregate) in the Copa del Rey quarter-final. Malaga may have fought back to claim two equalisers on the night, as Joaquin and Roque Santa Cruz cancelled out goals from Pedro and Gerard Piqué respectively, but in the end, they just didn’t have the energy to match the Blaugrana over 90 minutes. Despite wasting a number of chances throughout the game, Barcelona finished strong to claim two late goals courtesy of Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi, which sets up a mouth-watering El Clasico double-header semi-final clash with Real Madrid.
Following the 2-2 first-leg draw at the Camp Nou, Jordi Roura opted to restore a number of "big names" to the starting XI in an attempt to secure Barcelona’s place in the semi-finals. In fact, aside from Jose Manuel Pinto’s inclusion in goal, this was arguably Barca’s strongest possible XI – and again, aside from Pinto, this was the same team that defeated Malaga 3-1 at La Rosaleda less than two weeks ago. Would the Blaugrana be able to rebound from their weekend defeat against Real Sociedad and set-up an El Clasico semi-final with Real Madrid, or would Malaga hold firm to knock out the reigning champions?
Just like they did against Real Sociedad, Barcelona started well and even managed to pull ahead with their first meaningful attack of the night. It was an excellent team effort, as Alves – who started the move with a pin-point wall-pass with Xavi – clipped in a delightful cross to find the head of Pedro who had drifted unmarked into the Malaga area to finish the chance from the edge of the six-yard box. A little less than eight minutes had been played at La Rosaleda, and Barcelona were already ahead – both on the night, and on aggregate. However, their lead would not last for long.
Given that Malaga recovered from a two-goal deficit to snatch a draw at the Camp Nou, the equaliser really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are stacked with talent after all, and more to the point, Barcelona have found it exceptionally difficult to maintain a lead in recent weeks. Duda will be credited with the assist for feeding Joaquin with the ball, but it was what Joaquin did with that pass that counted. His first-touch was excellent and it allowed Joaquin to not only shield the ball from the challenge of Gerard Piqué, but it also created enough space for Joaquin to get his shot away. Some may argue that Pinto could and should have done better, or that Piqué should have shown a little more urgency to retrieve possession, but let’s take nothing away from Joaquin: this was simply an excellent shot. Powerful, yet precise; Pinto was left with next to no chance.
Barcelona couldn’t match Malaga’s reply, although they did come close. Messi tested Kameni with a powerful shot that fizzed across goal from the left-hand side of area, but the former Espanyol keeper was equal to the Argentine’s effort, and Malaga recovered to clear their lines. Andrés Iniesta then came closer still to restoring Barca’s lead, but could only watch on as his sumptuous long-range effort rattled the woodwork. After a first-half characterised by sloppy passing and profligate finishing, Barcelona’s dream of retaining the Copa del Rey appeared to be just that: a dream. Would the second-half bring a marked improvement and a Barcelona win?
Jordi Roura sent the team out early for the second-half, giving them time to stew over the half-time team talk and whatever Roura said, it certainly made a difference. Barcelona were passing the ball a little more accurately, and it took just three minutes for one of the Blaugrana players to showcase improved finishing too as Gerard Piqué of all people fired Barca back into the lead.
Andrés Iniesta created the chance with a raking diagonal pass, but make no mistake, this goal was all Piqué. Sure, the pass was good, but it left Geri with a lot to do. He had to control the pass, get the ball out from under his feet and into space, and then he had to slot the ball past an in-form Carlos Kameni. Even then, Piqué made it look so ridiculously simple; just think, would Alexis Sánchez have finished the same chance if given the opportunity?
This time, there would be no instant reply from the Malaga attack. In fact, there wasn’t going to be a response of any kind as Barcelona immediately pressed forward in search of a third. Lionel Messi wasted what could have been a good chance for a pass when he blazed a shot over the bar, while Dani Alves’ awful miscue probably had more chance of finding the corner flag than it did the back of the net, but at least Barcelona were creating chances. Malaga couldn’t even work the ball into the Barca half.
Weligton was then forced into a crucial intervention by Jordi Alba’s teasing cross which would have otherwise been buried by Lionel Messi, and no matter what Barcelona threw at the hosts, they just couldn’t get that pivotal third goal. Typically, Malaga suffered from no such troubles in front of goal. Making the most of a momentary man advantage (Fàbregas was busy rolling around in the Malaga penalty area following a "stamp" from a Malaga defender), the hosts tied the scores again, this time courtesy of Roque Santa Cruz.
At 2-2, the game was poised to go into extra-time, with the possibility of penalties to come. Now, neither team would have been particularly keen on extra-time prior to kick-off – especially given each side’s hectic schedule over the past few weeks – but Malaga were ready to take whatever they could get. Barcelona on the other hand were preparing to up the tempo. They wanted to finish this in regulation time, and that’s exactly what they did. After 75 minutes of wasteful finishing, Barca simply moved through the gears and secured the win. Andrés Iniesta got the third, slotting the ball through Kameni’s legs after a stunning assist from Cesc Fàbregas, and before Malaga could catch their breath, Messi had made it four – with a header no less – after a great cross from Alves.
Now the game was out-of-reach, and Roura took the opportunity to make a few changes. Lionel Messi made way for Thiago Alcântara, while Alexis Sánchez and Adriano also made late cameo appearances, replacing Pedro and Jordi Alba respectively. Cesc Fàbregas nearly made it five as injury-time approached, but his shot was kept out by Kameni – not that it would make a difference. Barcelona were through to the final four, where Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid await.