Athletic Bilbao seem to have become the Real Madrid of this season in the way that Barça are never more than a few weeks before another game against them. This game was the sixth meeting this season and the third meeting in January alone. This time it was the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter final tie between the pair and Barcelona went into this game with a 2-1 advantage.
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This meant, the visitors to the Camp Nou this evening where needing at least two goals if they were to progress and it was they who started on the front foot. Barcelona, playing a much changed eleven, tried to wrestle their way back into the game and it was this physicality that saw the ball in the net for the first time. A swinging corner from Lionel Messi found Thomas Vermaelen in the box and he nodded the ball goal-wards. However, the referee deemed that Vermaelen's use of his arms was too much and signalled a free kick.
Ten minutes had passed and it was now Barça who were on top but against the run of play, the away side struck first. The ball fell to Aritz Aduriz and his pass was only bettered by the run of Iñaki Williams. The man who has troubled Barça in the past peeled away from Jeremy Mathieu and connected with the through ball from Aduriz. The 21 year old calmly took the ball past Marc-André ter Stegen and then passed it into the net.
With a midfield three of Javier Mascherano, Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitić, the team seemed to be lacking creativity in the middle and the front three was becoming increasingly disjointed from the rest of the team.
Bilbao, though, were not experiencing this problem and were pushing for the goal that would see them go ahead in the tie. Aduriz, a constant thorn in Barça's side, came close and Markel Susaeta fluffed a kick from yards away.
Barcelona were clawing a way into the game primarily through Neymar. Twice he clashed with Aymeric Laporte in the penalty area but both incidents would've been harsh to award a spot kick. A couple of minutes later though and Athletic were lucky to not be reduced to ten. Neymar had broken clean though and Balenziaga was forced to bodycheck the Brazilian. As Balenziaga was the last man it was surprising to see the referee produce a yellow card with the only reasoning being that Neymar was possibly going away from goal.
The resultant free kick from Lionel Messi curled over the bar and the teams went in at the break with Athletic up on the night but level in the tie.
While this game was going on, Atlético Madrid were having a torrid time in the capital against Celta Vigo. The game ended 3-2, knocking Diego Simeone's men out in the process, making the winners of the Camp Nou tie strong favourites to go on and lift the trophy.
As it stood, Barça were going through but being one goal away from elimination is never comfortable so the team started the second half in search for the equaliser. That search didn't last long as eight minutes after the restart, Barça were level. Sergio Roberto played a perfectly timed pass into the path of Messi. The Argentine took the ball down the left flank before drilling it across goal. Rakitić flung a leg at it but made no contact which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the unmarked Luis Suárez was arriving at the back post. He rifled the ball into the far corner and Barcelona reclaimed control of the tie.
The Catalans were still lacking fluidity on the field so the introduction of Sergio Busquets in the 70th minute was a welcome sight.
Barça were searching for the next goal to put the tie to bed and with ten minutes to go, they got it. A Neymar corner was met by Gerard Piqué's head and it required the fingertips of Iago Herrerín to push it past the post. However 40 seconds later, Piqué made no mistake. Rakitić found Dani Alves who crossed the ball towards Piqué. The central defender rose and fired his header past Herrerín to make it 2-1. The team were now 4-2 up on aggregate and cruising towards the final whistle.
With seconds on the clock, Neymar made it 3-1. Some great footwork took him past the defenders and gave him a sight of goal. He drilled the effort into the top corner and the game finished 3-1. Barça will now face any of Celta Vigo, Mirandés, Sevilla, Las Palmas or Valencia.
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