FC Barcelona secured a small advantage before the 2nd Leg of the Copa del Rey Semi-Final, beating Valencia 1-0. Despite dominating for large portions of the match, Barcelona scored only one goal, courtesy of Luis Suarez, but the Catalans are in the driver’s seat going into the return leg.
Barcelona looked determined from the opening whistle. The Catalans wasted no time in getting on the offensive, needing just seconds to bring the ball deep into Valencia territory. The visitors looked vulnerable early and Barcelona wanted to score a quick goal to make the remainder easier, but Lionel Messi’s early shot missed the target.
Barcelona weren’t discouraged by the lack of reward for the positive play, but Valencia were slowly tightening their ranks. The visitors also looked dangerous on the counter attack, but their first threatening play was defused by Gerard Pique in the 11th minute. But despite the occasional counter attack, Valencia were having to withstand heavy pressure almost constantly, however, goalkeeper Jaume Domenech was hardly ever called into action.
Barcelona, through some excellent movement and vision from Jordi Alba and Messi created a lovely chance in the 22nd minute, but in the end Messi couldn’t get a shot off. Messi probably should’ve let the ball reach Aleix Vidal behind him who was in a much better position to take the shot. Barcelona continued to dominate, but creating scoring chances proved difficult and the Valencia defenders made some good plays to stop Barcelona’s attacks, highlighted by Ruben Vezo’s last second clearance before Suarez would’ve been through on goal after 25 minutes.
The visitors struggled to carry the ball over the midfield line as the Catalans looked to win the ball back immediately after losing it. Valencia’s main focus was clearly to allow as few goals as possible and maybe, if a really good chance presents itself, go on the counter attack. Barcelona came close to the opening goal in the 38th minute when Andres Iniesta sent a shot/pass goalmouth that was tipped just enough by Domenech to send it out of reach of the waiting Suarez on the far post.
Barcelona were attacking up until the halftime whistle, but they weren’t rewarded for their attacking play. In fact, Barcelona almost would’ve ended the half down by a goal as an added time Valencia counter ended with former Barcelona man Martin Montoya unleashing one from 25 yards out, but the ball missed the top corner by a couple feet.
The game went scoreless into the break and when the two sides returned, Valencia manager Marcelino made a substitution, leaving Andreas Pereira, who received a studs-first challenge from Sergi Roberto midway through the half, in the dressing room and replaced him with Nemanja Maksimović.
On the pitch, Barcelona looked to continue where they left off in the first half when their quest of scoring a goal proved unsuccessful. Messi tried to change that just three minutes in, but after a nice run from the middle to the left side of the area his shot missed the near post by mere inches. Valencia showed much more life after the restart of play, registering the first shot on goal by either side in the 52nd minute, but Jasper Cillessen easily collected the long range try.
Ernesto Valverde made his first substitution in the 58th minute when Philippe Coutinho replaced the largely anonymous Vidal. Barcelona’s attacking ambitions continued and the Catalans would get a good chance in the 63rd minute from a free kick. From a similar spot Messi scored against Alaves, but this time Messi sent the ball into the goalkeeper’s corner where Domenech was able to make his first save of the game.
Three minutes later, Barcelona finally broke through. Iniesta and Alba were combining nicely on the left wing, before the latter found Messi in the area. With two defenders all over him, Messi managed to control the ball and made his way toward the goal-line from where he crossed the ball to the far post to the wide open Suarez. The Uruguayan headed the ball on goal where not even a desperation attempt by Jose Gaya couldn’t prevent Barcelona’s lead. Immediately after the goal Paulinho replaced Ivan Rakitić. A few minutes later Paco Alcacer replaced Iniesta.
Barcelona were looking for a healthier cushion before the second leg, launching attack after attack, with Coutinho first trying his luck in the 73rd minute, but saw his shot saved by the goalkeeper. Three minutes later, Messi sent a 30-yard free kick just over the crossbar. After another three minutes Alcacer powered a volley on goal from 30-yards out, but he too was denied by Domenech.
Valencia brought on two attackers in the final 15 minutes of the game, with Ferrán Torres and Santi Mina entering as Marcelino was looking for the all-important away goal. But despite all the firepower on the pitch – on both sides – neither team would manage to change the score-line. It wasn’t for the lack of trying though as Barcelona looked dangerous, but the Catalans were left unrewarded. In the final minute of regulation Valencia could’ve shockingly tied the game at one, as Cillessen recklessly left his line much too late, but was able to recover with a sliding tackles as Mina also reacted poorly to the unexpected chance. In the dying seconds of added time Mina had another chance with a header but was let down by his accuracy.
Barcelona will therefore go to the Mestalla with a one goal advantage and without conceding an away goal. But before the return leg on February 8th, Barcelona will have to take on their city rivals Espanyol one last time this season.