Barcelona held on to the lead earned at the Vicente Calderon to book a place in their fourth consecutive Copa del Rey Final. The Catalans took the lead late in the first half through a Luis Suarez tap in, but a relentless Atletico Madrid made for a nail-biting second half that saw three yellow cards and a Kevin Gameiro goal, but Barcelona advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
Both sides made a pair of chances compared to the first leg. Barcelona were playing without Javier Mascherano and the suspended Neymar. They were replaced by Denis Suarez and Arda Turan. Diego Simeone fielded an eleven without Šime Vrsaljko and the suspended Gabi. They were replaced by Nico Gaitan and Fernando Torres.
Those two changes made Atletico much more attacking oriented, and right from the get-go the visitors looked to score the opening goal, but Torres’ early shot was blocked by the Catalan defense. Barcelona’s first shot came in the fifth minute, when Suarez’s low drive was redirected just wide for a corner kick. From the ensuing corner Barcelona didn’t threaten, but Atletico did with a lightening quick counter that saw Yannick Carrasco easily dribble past Sergi Roberto and power a shot on target, but Jasper Cillessen made the save.
The visitors threaten again in the 11th minute, this time from a free kick from the left side. Antoine Griezmann was on the receiving end of the cross, heading the ball forward to Stefan Savić who looked destined to score, but Cillessen somehow made the save. But even had he scored the goal wouldn’t have counted as the play was whistled dead for offside.
Atletico continued to exert their attacking dominance and five minutes later the visitors again tested the Dutchman in the Barcelona goal. First, after an unnecessary deep turnover, Koke fired from distance, but had his shot saved by a diving Cillessen. From the ensuing corner Cillessen was again called into action, this time to stop Diego Godin’s header.
The area where Barcelona struggled the most was keeping possession, a rarity for the Catalans, but Atletico’s high press and midfield superiority often left Barcelona’s attackers isolated high up the pitch without the ball. And even when Barcelona carried the ball over the midfield line, Atletico remained disciplined defensively, not leaving their defenders to face the likes of Lionel Messi and Suarez on their own. Barcelona’s passing also wasn’t the sharpest, often leaving Atletico with a short field as a result of numerous turnovers.
Atletico’s pressure up the pitch remained dialed up which exacerbated Barcelona problems in midfield and with passing accuracy. Barcelona finally managed to pin Atletico back for an extended period around the half hour mark, but with Atletico committing people to defense when Barcelona reached the halfway line the Catalan’s couldn’t get a good look on goal. Messi’s relatively harmless shot right at Miguel Ángel Moyà was the only time Barcelona fired on goal during that stretch.
As time went on the first half, Atletico’s pressure slightly faded. Maybe it was a tactical wrinkle by Simeone to keep his players fresh for the second half, or maybe all the running by Atletico’s forwards and midfielders left a mark. Either way, Barcelona slowly started to control the ball with more ease. Still, creating chances was a different story and the Catalans couldn’t get even close to Moya. Until the 43rd minute that is, when Messi delivered more of this trademark magic to bail out a struggling Barcelona side. Messi took on three Atletico defenders to win himself enough space to fire a low left-footed shot on goal. Moya was able to parry but left a juicy rebound that Suarez easily tapped into the empty net. Atletico defenders were claiming the Uruguayan was offside, but replays clearly showed Suarez was played on by Juanfran.
Halftime whistle blew shortly after. After the break both sides remained unchanged. But that would change less than three minutes into second half as Gaitan was replaced by Angel Correa. Just moments later Godin was forced off the pitch by an apparent muscle injury. Lucas Hernández took his place.
In the early minutes of second half Barcelona looked much more comfortable on the pitch compared to the first half, creating a couple early half chances, and for the first time in the match Atletico’s defense looked vulnerable. But that positive feeling wouldn’t last long.
Already playing on a yellow card from the first half, Roberto was on thin ice, and Lucho knew it, as Aleix Vidal was ready on the sideline, waiting for the next stoppage. However, the next stoppage came in the 57th minute when Roberto recklessly went studs-first into Filipe Luis for a second bookable offense and a red card. Vidal was called back and almost instantly Atletico appeared to tie the game at one, with Griezmann finding the back of the net with a low diagonal shot, but the linesman raised his flag for offside. Replays showed that the Frenchman was clearly onside.
Both managers made a substitution in the 62nd minute. Atletico went for freshness in attack, with Gameiro taking Torres’ place while Barcelona went with closing down space defensively, with Denis giving way to Mascherano.
Playing with a numerical advantage, Atletico saw an opportunity to steal the tie from Barcelona. Barcelona’s defense looked on the verge of breaking several times, but somehow the hosts remained in the lead. Their task of protecting the lead was made easier by the clumsiness of Carrasco who like Roberto stupidly picked up a second yellow card.
With the sides even at ten, Enrique made his remaining two changes in quick succession, both featuring the returns of injured players. First, Sergio Busquets took the place of Arda. Then, Andres Iniesta replaced Ivan Rakitić.
Carrasco’s sending off all but completely ruined Atletico’s chances of a comeback. But Atletico remained active in attack and scoring two in the last fifteen minutes would’ve sent the game into overtime. Messi almost put the final nail in Atletico’s coffin in the 77th minute, but while his stunning long range free kick beat Moya it was rejected by the crossbar.
Pique handed Atletico their best opportunity to open their scoring account in the 79th minute by bringing down Gameiro inside the area for a penalty kick. Gameiro took responsibility himself and promptly sent the ball over the crossbar. The visitors finally found the back of Cillessen’s net four minutes later. Pique’s attempted interception was poor and it left Griezmann with options in front of goal. He opted to square the ball to the wide open Gameiro on the far post who was left with an easy tap in to get Atletico back into the tie.
Atletico continued to attack, but it appeared that Barcelona put the game out of reach after Suarez powered home the ball after more Messi magic, but the goal was correctly disallowed for offside. The situation became even trickier for Barcelona in the 90th minute when Suarez received his second yellow card in three minutes.
The fourth referee signaled for five minutes of added time and it was time for some desperate defending for the Catalans. Pique seemed to be winning every aerial duel, Samuel Umtiti was making crucial blocks and Barcelona were able to hold on and advance to the final, where Barcelona will have to play without Suarez and Roberto. Who they will face there will be known tomorrow when Deportivo Alavés host Celta Vigo. The first leg ended scoreless. The action now returns to La Liga for Barcelona where the Catalans will look to settle the score against Alavés.