In Valencia, in front of a sellout crowd at Mestalla, Real Madrid once again beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey Final, this time by the score of 2-1. Angel di Maria scored the opening goal of the game, but after Marc Bartra tied it midway through the second half it appeared like the game was going to go into extra time. But with five minutes left in regulation Gareth Bale turned on his turbo booster and decided the Final.
Shots on Target
Once again Garardo Martino went with his "big game" lineup with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas all in the starting XI. In the back-line, where Barcelona struggled to get anybody fit in time for kickoff, Marc Bartra started alongside Javier Mascherano, in the heart of the defense.
In games of this magnitude oftentimes the early minutes can be very nervy, but both teams looked ready from the opening whistle and both wasted no time in getting into their respective attacking thirds of the pitch. Barcelona were the first to threaten with a lovely run by Jordi Alba, who was set up by Iniesta, but the chance was well defended by Dani Carvajal. The next chance went in Real's favor with Bale having a good look on goal, but his shot was blocked in the last second by Mascherano.
But quickly after that chance Real Madrid took the lead. Dani Alves lost the ball which led to a classic Real counter which saw Karim Benzema find di Maria who carried the ball into the Barcelona box and beat Jose Manuel Pinto to the far side. It wasn't a good shot and Pinto got a hand on it, but it wasn't enough to keep it from crossing the goal-line.
The goal slowed the pace of the game a little bit, but it started to pick up after a few minute and both teams again started to move the ball well with Barcelona enjoying more of the ball than their opponents. As has been so often the case in recent El Clasicos Real Madrid seemed content to allow Barcelona to hold the ball, but as soon as the Catalans coughed it up Real were in front of the Barcelona goal after just three passes.
Barça's next chance didn't come until the 23rd minute when Alves sent a good cross to the far post where Alba won the header, but put it straight into the hands of Iker Casillas. Quickly thereafter Iniesta sent a dangerous low ball in front of goal, but Neymar was late to the far post and the ball went out of play.
While Barcelona continued to control the play well inside Real's half they struggled mightily to create clear cut chances. The ball moved well from one Barcelona player to another, but most of the movement came at about 30 yards from goal where there was no threat of conceding for Real Madrid. Barcelona also lacked speed in attack which allowed Real to hold their defensive form with little problems.
In the 35th minute Real came very close to doubling their lead as Bale found a wide open Isco in the middle of the penalty box, but out of nowhere came Alba to block the dangerous shot.
From Barcelona's last shot 15 minutes passed before the Catalans were able to take their next one and it came after a brilliant sequence by Iniesta which resulted in a chance for Lionel Messi, but his shot from the edge of the area whistled wide of the post. That ended up being the last chance of the first half and teams went into the dressing rooms with Real Madrid leading 1-0 courtesy of Di Maria's opener.
The second half started with Barcelona making a substitution, but it wasn't one that many expected. Alba, who was one of the most active players on the pitch, didn't return to the pitch and was replaced by Adriano Correia. Later it became known that this substitution was forced by a thigh injury that Alba picked up earlier in the game.
Barça started the second half with good tempo, quickly pressing toward the Real Madrid goal, but it was actually the Madrid side the threatened to score first. Bale had a good look on goal after another lightning quick counter attack, but the Welshman missed the goal. On the very next play Messi won a free kick a good 30-yards from goal but wasn't able to test Casillas from it.
In quick succession Real Madrid then "created" two scoring chances after two nearly disastrous giveaways, one by Busquets the other by Adriano, but neither resulted in any work for Pinto. After a short stint where Barcelona looked more dangerous attack, but couldn't create anything, Real Madrid once again threatened. First Sergio Ramos rose the highest to head the ball straight into the hands of Pinto. Two half-chances followed that one, but again Real Madrid were wasteful.
Tata Martino then completed his second substitution, one that most Barcelona fans were asking for since about the first minute, as Cesc went off the pitch and was replaced by Pedro.
Barcelona immediately looked more dangerous and Bartra went on to put a show in a three minute span. First he made a run that ended with a knuckleball ball shot that Casillas did well to keep out. And then, in the 68th minute, Bartra leveled the score with a brilliant header after a Xavi corner kick. Bartra was given little space by Pepe to take the header but that was all the space the young center-back needed.
Boosted by the goal Barcelona looked more confident in the attacking third and as a result they looked more dangerous. The ball started to move quicker which caused some problems to the Real defense, but apart from a couple half-chances Barcelona couldn't muster up anything else.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, needed just one chance as in the 85th minute Bale outran Bartra and from a bad angle beat Pinto to put Real lead for the second time. In retrospect, Bartra should've fouled Bale on the left sideline even at the risk of a red card, but he didn't and the Welshman made him pay.
In desperation Barcelona then made their final substitution, replacing Bartra with Alexis Sanchez for the final five or so minutes of the game. It didn't look likely that Barcelona would be able to score the second goal of the game and force the game into extra time. However, in the 89th minute Xavi somehow found Neymar in space in front of Casillas, but the Brazilian's powerful drive hit the right post and cannoned right back into the hands of the Real Madrid goalkeeper.
That turned out to be Barcelona's last chance to score the equalizer and Real Madrid went on lift the Copa del Rey trophy for the first time since 2011 when they also beat Barça in the final.
This ended up being an utterly catastrophic week for Barcelona who not only lost the Copa del Rey, but were also knocked out of the Champions league by a different Madrid based team and all but lost any hope of retaining the La Liga crown after the loss to Granada. But that doesn't mean the last five game of the season have to be meaningless as things in football can turn quickly and with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both still competing in the Champions League anything can happen in La Liga and the only thing Barça can do at this point is win the remaining five games.
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