FC Barcelona overwhelmed lowly Elche CF for the second time in a week tonight, dismantling the La Liga strugglers 4-0 at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero in their second-leg Copa del Rey Round of 16 clash with the side from Alicante. Despite fielding a weakened team featuring no fewer than three representatives from the B team, Barcelona were far too strong for Elche and cruised to victory courtesy of goals from Jeremy Mathieu, Sergi Roberto and Pedro Rodriguez, thereby booking FC Barcelona’s place in the last eight where reigning La Liga champions, Atletico Madrid await.
Their place in the last eight secured, FC Barcelona understandably fielded a weakened team for this trip to Alicante; although it would come as no small consolation to poor Elche CF that the visiting team was fortunate enough to boast a full squad of stars. So, while there was no Lionel Messi, Neymar or Luis Suarez, there was World Cup winner, Pedro, Rafinha Alcântara, Marc Bartra, Jeremy Mathieu, Marc-André ter Stegen, Adriano Correia, Martin Montoya and Sergi Roberto, all of whom were joined by three of the brightest talents that La Masia has to offer: the explosive Adama Traore, skilful striker Munir El Haddadi and midfield prospect Gerard Gumbau.
Certainly, even in spite of their "weakened" side and their huge advantage after the first-leg, the Blaugrana were still overwhelming favourites to claim another victory tonight at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero. Would Pedro continue his recent spell of good form and spearhead a Blaugrana victory?
Barcelona started the match brightly. Following their 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier in the evening, Atletico Madrid secured their place in the quarter-finals, meaning that the Blaugrana knew their opposition for the last eight before the game even got rolling tonight – and perhaps that played on their minds as they kicked-off in Alicante. Full of confidence, the Blaugrana immediately took the game to their hosts and created what appeared to be the first chance of the match through Munir El Haddadi. However, the assistant referee correctly flagged for an offside, meaning that Munir’s effort effectively went to waste.
Moments later, Adama Traore announced his arrival, holding off not one, but two Elche defenders, powering through the challenges (and fouls) of his markers to race to the byline, only for his usually brilliant control to evade him just at the crucial moment. Still, it was an encouraging start from the talented Spaniard and on the basis of this fast start from Barça, it was going to be another long night for Elche.
Indeed, the only thing keeping it from being a repeat of last week’s comfortable victory, at least early on in this match, was Barça’s finishing. They were creating chances, none more clear-cut than Adriano’s in the 9th minute but the Brazilian fluffed his lines from inside the area, scuffing his shot wide of the mark. Unsurprisingly, after missing from six yards he also missed from 36, blazing a long-range effort even wider of the net.
A brief drop in tempo allowed Elche to build their confidence, but Barça were looking dangerous on the break. A through ball from Rafinha to Adama Traore looked to have sent the latter clean through on goal, only for the veteran left-back Edu Albacar to trip Adama and bring the attack to an abrupt end. The referee, perhaps leniently, only opted to show a yellow card and Elche appeared to have got away with a cynical foul; well, until Jeremy Mathieu stepped up to take the free-kick.
Who would have thought that our lanky French centre-half possessed such an incredible prowess at dead-ball scenarios? It seemed to catch everyone off-guard, including the Elche keeper, although in his defense, it wasn’t to matter. Mathieu’s strike was quite literally perfect. He stepped up, curled the ball – with power – right into the top corner of the net. A beautiful effort, and quite some way for Mathieu to claim his first goal since his transfer from Valencia CF this summer.
Now six goals to the good on aggregate, and with a lead on the night, Barça began to establish their usual dominance in possession, taking their time and picking apart the Elche defense at will. An impressive run on the overlap enabled Martin Montoya to race to the byline, where he skipped over one challenge with an adept flick of the ball before fizzing a dangerous cross low into the area. Alas, Pedro arrived a touch too early and the chance ultimately went to waste.
Elche knew they were overmatched. Again. A defensive outlook didn’t work last week, nothing did – so they resorted to needless fouls – leaving the foot in on a number of Barça players. It was crude, and sad to watch. Of course, they were well within their rights to try and win the ball and to stop the Blaugrana momentum, but what were they achieving with their fouls? If anything, it would only serve to anger the visitors, prompting them to press on in search of more goals to add to the humiliation.
A typically powerful Adama Traore run had the Elche defense at sixes and sevens as the Spaniard weaved his way past the defense and into the centre of the area, but while his run was unstoppable, his shot was less so. On his weaker left foot, Adama dragged his shot wide – but where he failed, Sergi Roberto triumphed in style. Just outside the area, on his weaker left foot, Roberto scored the second golazo of the game, arrowing an effort into the opposite top corner of the net. The tie was already over, but now this game was over as well.
7-0, and counting – as minutes later, Munir El Haddadi was felled in the area by a challenge from by a couple of Elche defenders. The referee duly pointed to the spot and Pedro dispatched it in style, sending the keeper the wrong way with a well-taken effort from 12 yards. From the first minute to the 45th, this was almost a complete carbon copy of last week’s performance – Elche were probably wishing that they didn’t have to reappear in the second-half.
Even with such a gargantuan aggregate lead, Barça started the second d-half on the attack. there would be no mercy, no remorse while this team was out on the field. A superb piece of play saw Martin Montoya exchange a one-two with Sergi Roberto on the edge of the area, allowing the Catalan full-back to create enough space for a shot. The play deserved a goal, but Montoy’a effort drifted agonisingly wide of the post, just as Adama Traore’s did minutes later, again off an assist from the impressive Sergi Roberto.
Taking matters into his own hands, Roberto tried his luck with a dribble into the area but before he could get a shot off at goal he was pushed off the ball by a defender. It seemed like a penalty to me, but the referee was unmoved and pointed for a goal kick. by this point, the match was over anyway, so it’s not like it would make much difference if the penalty was given or not.
In fact, the match was so "over" as a contest that Douglas was brought on. Douglas! The Brazilian replaced Martin Montoya just after the hour mark in a double switch that also saw Alen Halilovic enter in place of Adama Traore. Would the Croatian sensation be able to mark his entrance with a memorable cameo performance?
A lot of Culés have been anxiously awaiting this moment, the moment that Halilovic made his first team debut – we all know of the talent he possesses and he was keen on showing us tonight, coming oh so close to a debut goal. And what a goal it would have been, dropping a shoulder on the edge of the area, Halilovic let fly, not unlike a young Lionel Messi, and could only watch as his shot rattled off the foot of the post. A tremendous effort, but not quite enough to get on the scoresheet.
Right at the death, Barça extended their lead, further emphasising the gulf in class between the two sides through Adriano’s close-range header. Poor Elche, just when they thought the suffering was over, yet another goal goes in...
All in all, Luis Enrique will have been very pleased with what he witnessed tonight; the squad as a whole are on form, firing on all cylinders and the crisis of last week seems well and truly in the past.
Next up, FC Barcelona take a brief break from the Copa del Rey as they return to league action to square off against "Super" Deportivo La Coruna at the Riazor. Until then, Visca el Barça!
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