A late equaliser from Ignacio Camacho denied Barcelona a victory in the first-leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final – although one could argue that Barcelona denied themselves the win with what was a rather mediocre performance. Malaga took the lead with 25 minutes on the clock, courtesy of Manuel Iturra’s opener, but Barcelona fought back and looked to have secured a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Carles Puyol. Despite those goals, and Nacho Monreal’s red card, Malaga recovered to steal a share of the spoils, not to mention another vital away goal through Camacho’s last-minute goal.
Tito Vilanova made eight changes to the team that started on Sunday, as Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Javier Mascherano were the only three players to keep their place in the starting XI. This meant starts for Jose Manuel Pinto, Martin Montoya, Carles Puyol, Adriano Correia, Alex Song, Thiago Alcântara, Cristian Tello and Alexis Sánchez; would Barcelona be able to emerge victorious in spite of their changes, or would Malaga exact revenge for the weekend’s 3-1 defeat at La Rosaleda?
Barcelona started the game well, and despite the full-scale changes, they quickly settled into possession and it wasn’t long before they began to create chances. With Lionel Messi dropping a little deeper, there was plenty of space for the rest of the Blaugrana offense to exploit – and given Messi’s eye for a pass, their efforts did not go unnoticed. Thiago was the first to benefit, as Messi set him up for an attempted lob, but Thiago didn’t get enough power on his shot and this allowed Carlos Kameni to get his fingertips on the chip – slowing the ball down so that Weligton could recover and clear the danger.
Messi then picked out the run of Cristian Tello with an exceptional through ball, and Tello selflessly elected to slide the ball into the area where he found Alexis Sánchez. However, the Chilean’s nerves appeared to get the better of him, and the best chance of the game ended up with the fans behind Kameni’s goal. Alexis’ luck wasn’t about to improve either as the referee issued him with a rather harsh yellow card (for simulation) – all within ten minutes of the kick-off.
Barcelona were looking fairly comfortable – but without a goal, the Camp Nou crowd were beginning to get anxious. After all, anything could happen against such dangerous opposition. One moment of madness; a single mistake and Malaga made Barcelona pay. Part of the blame can be apportioned to Jose Pinto who should have read the game a little better before playing the pass, but it was Thiago who was caught in possession by Manuel Iturra. Unlike Barcelona’s out-of-form striker, this Chilean kept his composure in front of goal to slot the ball past Pinto and hand his side the lead.
The Camp Nou crowd were shocked. Thiago looked to be losing his self-belief – after all, this was the first time in over a month that Barcelona had fallen behind in a match. Just how would they react? Thankfully, we only had to wait a couple of minutes for an answer.
Lionel Messi – who else? – grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, dribbling from inside his own half, past a number of Malaga defenders (similar to his goal against Brazil), and while he did lose out to Weligton, Messi won the ball back almost instantaneously. Now he had space to drive into the area, and Messi made that look effortless too, gliding into a position where he could pick out the far-corner of the net. It was a magnificent individual effort from the four-time Ballon d’Or winner, and just like that, Barca were back on level terms.
Not that the two sides would be level for long. Minutes after they grabbed the equaliser, Barcelona scored again to take the lead and surprisingly it was Carles Puyol who got the all-important goal. Saying that, Puyol scored against Real Madrid at the very same stage of the Copa del Rey last season – and in similar fashion too. Thiago stepped up to swing in the corner, and it was a good delivery. Not quite exceptional, but good enough for Puyol who gained a yard of separation from his marker, which was all he needed to make his header count. And what a header it was – looping the ball across goal and in off the far-post, Puyol gave Kameni no chance.
Far from their best, but ahead nonetheless, Barcelona would have been content with their performance heading into the half-time break. Another goal and the tie would be virtually over, but even then, 2-1 isn’t the worst result either.
Nacho Monreal took Portillo’s place at half-time as Pellgrini made a slight tactical change to start the half, but Tito Vilanova didn’t opt for a change at the break and, unfortunately, Alexis didn’t change his boots either. Within minutes of the restart, Alexis spurned yet another good chance to get on the score-sheet. No matter what he did, he just couldn’t get the ball into the back of the net, and worst of all, it’s not only affecting him, but the whole team. Just how long can we wait for Alexis to find his touch in front of goal? At least his movement is good, and surely if he keeps that up, it won’t be long before the goals start to materialise.
Pellegrini made the game’s second change as well, pulling off the ineffective (and returning) Javier Saviola for Roque Santa Cruz. The Manchester City loanee struggled at the weekend, and tonight was no different. He was soon joined by Duda, who replaced Diego Buonanotte, which prompted Vilanova into action on the Barca bench. Cesc Fabrgeas and Pedro were both readied, and took the field for the remaining 15 minutes, instantly making an impact. A long, raking cross-field pass from Cesc Fàbregas looked to send Pedro through on goal, but before Pedro could control Cesc’s exquisite pass he tangled with Nacho Monreal and ended up hitting the turf. It wasn’t a malicious challenge, but Monreal was the last-man, so referee Jose Gonzalez was forced to brandish a red card – Malaga were now a player light as well as a goal down. When Xavi replaced Thiago minutes later, one couldn’t help but get the impression that Barcelona would close out the remainder of the game and take a 2-1 aggregate lead to La Rosaleda.
Unfortunately, Ignacio Camacho and Malaga had other ideas. With the game drawing to a close, Pellegrini’s side looked to running out of time to grab an equaliser, but they did have a free-kick in a dangerous position. This one wasn’t quite in shooting-range, but that proved to be the Blaugrana’s downfall. How many times have we seen this happen? A set-piece is launched into the box, someone loses their man and a goal is conceded. This time, it was Camacho bundled the ball home at the far-post, but it might as well have been Victor Wanyama. Or Cristiano Ronaldo. This happens far too often for it to be a coincidence, and clearly, it’s a weakness that opposing teams will continue to exploit. Ultimately, Camacho’s goal doesn’t mean a lot at present. Sure, the tie is evenly poised at 2-2, but Barcelona won at La Rosaleda on Sunday – and will do so again if they replicate that performance next Thursday.
Next up, Barcelona will look to return to winning ways at La Anoeta, where they will take on Real Sociedad. Visca el Barca!