Barcelona won their place in the semi-final of the 2016/17 edition of the Copa del Rey, besting Real Sociedad 6-2 on aggregate, winning the second leg 5-2. A solitary Denis Suarez goal in the first half got things rolling for the Catalans before an offensive outburst after the break. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Arda Turan kept the Barcelona scoring machine going before Denis completed his brace late in the game. Juanmi and Willian Jose scored the consolidation goals for the visiting side.
While Real Sociedad started the match with the same lineup as they did in the first leg, Barcelona made several changes. Jordi Alba replaced Lucas Digne in defense and the entire midfield was replaced. The injured Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta were replaced by Javier Mascherano and Andre Gomes. Denis also started in midfield.
Similarly to the match at the Anoeta, the match began with the two sides battling an intense midfield battle with Real Sociedad looking to force a turnover deep in Barcelona territory. With the visitors needing to outscore Barcelona in this match, Barcelona weren’t overly aggressive in attack and rarely overcommitted people forward. Mascherano almost always remained deep, taking on more of a destroyer role instead of a more Busquets-like deep playmaker.
As a result, the Barcelona defense saw plenty of action, especially after you account for some easy clearances that weren’t made. But because Real Sociedad were forced to attack, Barcelona looked to exploit their lack of numbers in defense. And the Catalans did just that after Samuel Umtiti forced a deep turnover on the left side in the 17th minute. Neymar picked up the loose ball and passed it to the middle to Messi. Messi extended the play further to Suarez who cheekily played the ball to Denis with the outside of the boot. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, Denis made no mistake and calmly slotted the ball inside the far post, scoring his second goal in two matches.
Five minutes later it appeared Barcelona doubled their lead after Suarez (Luis) was played through and chipped the ball over Gerónimo Rulli before regaining control and passing into the empty net, but the play was ruled dead for offside. On the other side of the pitch Barcelona dealt with any Basque attacks very well and Jasper Cillessen didn’t need to make his first save until the 35th minute, and that one came from terrible angle.
Real Sociedad were the team that (desperately) needed goals, but the Basque’s were very ineffective in attack. Whenever Barcelona got into the opposing third of the pitch they looked dangerous, but those occurrences were rare in the first half. The majority of the first half was fought out in midfield and the fans at the Camp Nou didn’t witness more than a couple Barcelona chances, one of which the Catalans converted.
The halftime break brought one change in the Barcelona side. Sergi Roberto picked up a knock while battling out for a high ball with Carlos Vela and Gerard Pique midway through the first. He was replaced by Aleix Vidal.
The hosts started brightly, attacking almost from the get-go, causing some problems to the Barcelona back-line, resulting in a complete breakdown in the 54th minute. Xabi Prieto excellently played the ball through to Vela who had it cleared away right into the path of Willian who powered a low shot on goal, but Cillessen made an excellent save. Barcelona immediately launched a counter attack and before the 54th minute was over, Neymar was brought down in the area for a penalty kick. Messi took responsibility, Rulli guessed right, but the Argentine’s shot was too accurate and Barcelona were up 2-0.
The second half continued with its excitement eight minutes later as the visitors pulled one back. Inigo Martinez played a fantastic over the top ball to the onrushing Juanmi, who joined the action just minutes earlier, and Real Sociedad’s top scorer excellently chipped the ball over Cillessen to give the visitors some hope. But that hope was short lived. The very next minute Barcelona restored the two goal lead. Messi played a perfect pass forward to Suarez who powered his way on goal before slotting the ball under Rulli.
Luis Enrique brought some fresh legs to the midfield in the 68th minute as Mascherano made way to Ivan Rakitić. But that didn’t bother Real Sociedad all that much as they were firmly standing behind their plan of “not going quietly into the night”. In the 72nd minute the Basques again pulled one back, this time through Willian who headed the ball out of Cillessen’s reach after an excellent cross from the right side into the soft spot between the Barcelona center-backs.
Lucho reacted immediately, bringing on the physical presence that is Arda Turan in place of Neymar. It turned out to be a very good substitution as after just five minutes the Turk scored his fourth goal of the Copa del Rey. Again the play started on the left side and after numerous passes the Catalans had an extra man on the right side. In space, Vidal had time to look up and pick his target on the far post, where Suarez and Arda escaped coverage. The cross found Arda who tapped the ball into the empty net.
The very next minute Barcelona scored again, and again Messi’s brilliance was on full display. Under heavy pressure from defenders, Messi not only maintained possession, but he also played a perfect through ball to Denis who was making a run through the middle. With only the goalkeeper to beat, the young Spaniard decided to skip around Rulli and pass the ball into the empty net.
With the tie decided, both sides launched a handful of attack in the remaining time, but neither team changed the scoreboard. Barcelona won their place in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey, but will have to wait for the draw to determine who their opponent will be.