Barcelona kicked off their 2016-17 Copa del Rey campaign with a disappointing one-all draw against third-tier side Hercules. Granted, Barcelona were playing without their stars, but this was a team that Barcelona B beat 3-1 at this very ground three months ago. Both goals were scored in the second half. David Mainz put the hosts in the lead, while Carles Alena set the final score, scoring his first Barcelona goal in his first official Barcelona match.
Luis Enrique rested all of his usual starters, many of which didn’t even travel to Alicante, and fielded an eleven of first team backups and promising youngsters from the Barcelona B team. Jasper Cillessen started in goal while a back four of Aleix Vidal, Samuel Umtiti, Borja Lopez and Lucas Digne formed in front of him. Alex Carbonell, Carles Alena and Denis Suarez took the three midfield positions while Rafinha, Paco Alcacer and Arda Turan played in attack.
Playing in front of a good crowd, Hercules were not intimidated by the stature of a club like Barcelona and met the Catalans high up the pitch, not resorting to bunker-like tactics. Despite missing all of the big-name players, Barcelona managed to play around the Hercules high press fairly easily, but creating scoring chances proved difficult. Alcacer did win a free kick in a good position to open the scoring in the 10th minute. Paco himself lined up to take the shot and fired a powerful drive on goal, but Iván Buigues made a good save.
Barcelona continued to buzz on the pitch, with the right side of the lineup being especially active. Aleix Vidal was looking to prove himself, Rafinha was playing with a spark, Alena did not look nervous at all, and Alcacer looked the most mobile of his short Barcelona career – early on at least.
Hercules, on the other side, were patient and disciplined in defense. They didn’t attack often, but when they did it was lightning quick and in numbers. The hosts took their first shot on goal in the 28th minute, but Cillessen made easy work of the weak effort. Five minutes later, after a turnover deep, Hercules had their best look of the half, but a last second clear by Umtiti defused the situation. In between those two Hercules chances, Barcelona had a chance of their own, as Vidal excellently found Alcacer in the area, from a tough angle the Spaniard beat the goalkeeper, but couldn’t direct the ball on goal.
Barcelona would threaten again from a free kick in the 37th minute, but Lopez couldn’t make Hercules pay for leaving him with a free header as his aim was poor and he missed the target completely. Hercules threatened again in the final stages of the first half, getting off two headed attempts, but the first one missed the target, while the second was easily held by Cillessen.
Hercules would create the first chance for either side after the break. Lopez conceded a free kick on the very edge of Cillessen’s area. José Gaspar fired a low shot on target, but Cillessen was able to collect the ball before it crossed the line. In the 52nd minute Cillessen couldn’t bail out his defense which continued to make mistakes. Vidal couldn’t prevent the cross, Lopez, who was in perfect position to clear the ball, reacted terribly and missed it completely, so the ball bounced to the far post where it hit Mainz, who evaded Digne, in the stomach and bounced just inside of the post.
The home side’s celebration wouldn’t last long though as just six minutes later Alena tied the game up. With space in the Hercules penalty area becoming increasingly more difficult to come by, Alena tried his luck from 30-yards out, and it turned out to be a left-footed stunner just inside the far post that leveled the score at one. Three minutes later Digne would get a shot off from the left side, but had it saved. The follow up cross to the far side was cleared away at the last second before a sure-thing tap-in.
In the 68th minute, Lucho completed two substitutions, replacing Carbonell and Umtiti with Andre Gomes and Nili. Bacause Barcelona now only had a single center-back on the pitch, Digne moved to the heart of the defense alongside Lopez.
Barcelona continued to dominate possession, but with the hosts dropping deeper and deeper to prevent a complete comeback, the Catalans struggled to create chances. So, to up the oomph of Barcelona in attack, Enrique brought on the B team’s top scorer, Marc Cardona, in place of Alena. Immediately after the sub Barcelona had a chance from a free kick. The cross was floated in from the left side to two Barcelona players who escaped coverage. Wide open, Gomes headed the ball on goal, but it went right at the goalkeeper who made the easy save. Shortly thereafter Hercules gifted an excellent opportunity to Cardona after a rare poor clearance by the home defense. The youngster quickly fired but his shot was met by a diving Buigues.
Both sides launched attacks in the remaining time, but while Barcelona looked likelier to score, neither goalkeeper was forced to collect the ball out of their net and the two sides remained deadlocked at one. It is another one in a string of disappointing results for Barcelona who will look to right the ship on Saturday against Real Madrid. The Catalans will look to put away Hercules and advance to the next round of the Spanish Cup on December 21 at the Camp Nou.