FC Barcelona came from behind at the Camp d’Esports to secure their seventh Copa Catalunya, defeating Espanyol 4-2 on penalties after the 90 minutes ended 1-1. Despite Barcelona’s control of possession, it was Espanyol who took the lead on 19 minutes, as Simao slotted the ball past Oier Olazábal after a mistake from Adriano. While Barcelona created a litany of chances, they looked set to return home without the trophy thanks to a sensational goalkeeping display from Kiko Casilla, before Cesc Fàbregas popped up in the 89th minute to force a penalty shoot-out in which the Blaugrana held their nerve.
Tito Vilanova took the opportunity to assess some talent in tonight’s match, starting seven of the eight Barça B players that made the 21 man squad. Oier Olazábal started in goal, with Iván Balliu, Sergi Gómez and Patric starting in defense alongside first-team regular Adriano. Sergio Busquets started at pivote, with Jonathan dos Santos and Sergi Roberto in support, while Pedro (who was captain for the night) started in attack, with Gerard Deulofeu and Rafinha Alcântara completing Tito’s starting XI. Would this youthful team be able to compete with Espanyol, and ultimately win the trophy for the Blaugrana?
Despite their youthful starting line-up, Barcelona immediately settled into their usual rhythm, monopolising possession against an Espanyol outfit who were more than content to sit back and absorb the pressure. Without the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas, one might argue that this Barça team was lacking in creativity; although it’s probably more accurate to say that Barcelona were lacking in intensity – this was a glorified friendly match after all. In the early stages, Jonathan dos Santos was arguably Barcelona’s best, or at least, most productive player. The Mexican midfielder has barely seen any game-time at all this season, which explained why he was raring to demonstrate his talent – even if he was struggling to find an end product for all his hard work.
In the 17th minute for example, Dos Santos tried his luck from long-range – and while it may have been an ambitious effort, it could have caused Kiko Casilla some trouble in the Espanyol goal, if only JDS hadn’t dragged his shot well wide of the target.
Despite their grip over possession, Barcelona just couldn’t exert the same control over the match as a whole – thanks to a host of individual errors, the most costly of which gifted Espanyol a one goal lead. And surprisingly, it was Adriano who made that error, hesitating in possession just long enough to lose out in a challenge to Wakaso (who was sent off against Barça just a few days ago), providing Espanyol with a perfect opportunity, which Simao finished with aplomb. The former Portugal international was largely disappointing in his two-year spell with the Blaugrana over a decade ago, but be that as it may, you can’t gift a chance like this to a player of his calibre. Oier Olazábal had no chance – and Espanyol were ahead.
Barcelona did respond, forcing a couple of good saves from Casilla, the first of which was a real chance for Barça to grab a deserved equaliser. Set-up by a deft flick from Rafinha, Sergi Roberto went for goal on the turn, and would have certainly found the back of the net if not for a fingertip save from Casilla. Earlier in the season, there was some mention of Casilla as a potential transfer target for the Blaugrana – although those rumours since died down – but from that instinctive save alone, it was clear to see why Barça might have been interested in securing his services as a back-up.
However, aside from that chance, Barcelona didn’t really create anything else of note in the first-half – and without the individual brilliance of Gerard Deulofeu, they might not have registered another shot on goal. After firing off a "warning shot", Deulofeu soon found his touch in front of goal, cutting in from the left and attempting a curling shot towards the far corner (a move we have grown accustomed to seeing from Cristian Tello) – but his effort was parried by Casilla, and without a true striker in the line-up, Barcelona didn’t have anyone ready to capitalise on the rebound. So, after 45 minutes of play at the Camp d’Esports, Barcelona were ahead 84-16 in the possession stakes, but behind, 1-0 to a clinical Espanyol performance. Could they turn it around in the second half to secure their 7th Copa Catalunya triumph?
Tito Vilanova made four changes at the interval, as Javier Mascherano, Alex Song, Javi Espinosa and Alexis Sánchez were all given 45 minutes, replacing Adriano, Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Pedro respectively. With Pedro on the bench, Mascherano took over as captain, hopefully to lead the defense a little better than Adriano did in the opening 45 minutes.
Picking up where he left off in the first half, the majority of Barcelona’s early second-half chances involved the contribution of Gerard Deulofeu, who was causing the Espanyol defense a whole heap of problems with his close control and phenomenal acceleration. First, the winger could have easily won a penalty, and while his appeal was turned down by the officials, Deulofeu was not to be discouraged, creating another opportunity with a low cross from the right-hand side. Kiko Casilla scrambled at the ball, tipping it directly to Rafinha who attempted to stab the ball into the back of the net, only to be denied by the frame of the goal.
With his side still behind by a goal, Tito made a few more substitutions as the Barça line-up started to take a more recognisable approach. Xavi Hernández, Cesc Fàbregas, David Villa, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba all took to the field, with JDS, Rafinha, Deulofeu, Gómez and Balliu all making way. And with the "stars" on the pitch, Barcelona immediately improved, creating a number of clear-cut chances which should have lead to a well-deserved equaliser.
Breaking free on the right-hand side (rather uncharacteristically), Jordi Alba delivered an excellent cross to find the run of David Villa as Barcelona looked to make the most of a rare counter attacking opportunity, but El Guaje was denied at point-blank range by a tremendous save from Kiko Casilla. In truth, Villa could have probably done better, but compared to his later efforts, this was a great attempt from the former Valencia star.
Cesc Fàbregas then had a goal (legitimately) ruled out for offside, although it was a shame that Alexis Sánchez’ excellent back-heel didn’t lead to a goal – it was a truly superb touch from the Chilean. Cesc then returned the favour, delivering a low cross for Alexis, but once again, Barça were denied by Casilla, who was in inspired form against the Blaugrana offense. So much so, that Villa lost his composure in front of goal, or at least that’s the reason I’m using for his terrible air-shot.
Time was running out for Barcelona, a goal down with less than five minutes left to play – could they grab a late equaliser to dash Espanyol’s dreams of securing the Copa Catalunya? Thanks to Patric’s superb lofted cross to the open Cesc Fàbregas, Barcelona looked to have a golden opportunity to force a penalty shoot-out – but for the umpteenth time tonight, Casilla made an excellent save, clawing away Fàbregas’ goal-bound header with his fingertips to save the game. Surely that was the last chance for Barcelona to salvage this tie? Surely Espanyol would hold out for the win?
Not if Cesc Fàbregas could help it; collecting Alex Song’s through ball, Fàbregas ghosted into space in the Espanyol penalty area and slotted the ball low, past Casilla at the near-post. With less than a minute left in regulation, Fàbregas had tied the teams at 1-1 – and a penalty shoot-out loomed.
However, before we could get to the penalty shoot-out there was still time for a double red card – as Alex Song and Cristian Stuani received their marching orders for an unnecessary tangle just moments before the final whistle.
The penalty shoot-out got off to a bad start from a Barça perspective – just like this match really – as Xavi, the ever-dependable midfield maestro in this all-conquering Barcelona team was denied by Kiko Casilla. Espanyol proceeded to score their first two penalties (Wakaso and Petrov) while Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué stepped up to tie the scores at 2-2. Diego Colotto was the next to step up, and hit the crossbar – gifting Barcelona a way back into the shoot-out, which Alexis Sánchez took with both hands, converting his penalty into the top corner of Casilla’s goal. Joan Verdu had the chance to tie the teams again at 3-3, but got a little greedy with his penalty, and also clipped the crossbar. That meant that David Villa – who had missed a raft of chances in his short time on the field – could seal the title, and that’s exactly what he did, coolly dispatching the penalty to win Barcelona’s seventh Copa Catalunya title. Not a bad match for what was ultimately a friendly tie between two city rivals.
Next up, Barça take on Malaga in the final match of the La Liga season, but until then, Visca el Barça!