In an attempt to make Spanish Cup history, Barcelona failed miserably, losing to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to finish the 2018/19 season with a thud. A first half horror show led to Valencia taking a two goal lead courtesy of Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo. A second half comeback always seemed unlikely, though a tap in from Lionel Messi made things interesting, but Valencia would hang on to claim their first title since 2008 to cap of their centenary.
Once again, Ernesto Valverde sprung a couple surprises onto the football world with his starting lineup. Arthur, Philippe Coutinho and Nelson Semedo were all deemed fit enough to play after struggling with injuries, while Sergi Roberto took his place on the right wing.
Barcelona took possession from the opening kickoff, but in the fifth minute Valencia created a golden opportunity from their first counter-attack. Clement Lenglet attempted to defuse the situation with diving clearance, but it proved to be a perfect assist for Rodrigo. The forward rounded the keeper and sent the ball on goal, but a last-ditch dive from Gerard Pique prevented a sure goal, clearing the ball off the line.
Quickly the Catalans returned to their control play, but creating anything proved difficult against a very organized Valencia side. Valencia also managed to isolate Lionel Messi who wasn’t able to assert his influence in the early going. In the 18th minute, the Argentine proved he didn’t need much space to be a difference maker, but a last second deflection off a defender meant Jaume Doménech went untested.
Valencia came into the game content with allowing Barcelona to control the ball, hoping to capitalize on the counter - and they did just that in the 22nd minute. Barcelona’s defense looked suspect from the get-go and they were once again exposed as José Luis Gayà excellently controlled the deep ball before finding a wide open Gameiro in the middle. The Frenchman faked out the closing in Jordi Alba and then powered the ball past a helpless Jasper Cillessen.
In attack Barcelona were playing without much imagination, Alba being arguably the only player to provide any width as both teams congested the middle. Occasionally Semedo offered an outlet on the right side as well, but both wingers were largely unnoticed. At the half hour mark, due to the high temperature at the Benito Villamarin, a cooling break was called.
The break clearly didn’t do the Catalans any favors as in the 33rd minute Valencia doubled their lead. Alba was beaten in a foot race by Carlos Soler down the wing before the winger crossed the ball into the six-yard box where Rodrigo was somehow left unmarked in between three defenders. This time the forward made no mistake, calmly heading the ball into the back of the net for a well-deserved lead.
Problems for Barcelona continued as the lack of ideas in attack allowed Valancia to defend with ease. The ball was often forced to Alba, Messi was forced to drop deeper, leaving nobody to spearhead attacks, and the right wing went completely underutilized. If Barcelona were going to turn this game around Messi was going to have to rescue his side once again. Toward the end of the half, Messi started to take over and in quick succession the Argentine fired on goal twice, but both times Domenech made the save. In added time Ivan Rakitić also took a shot, but again Domenech made the stop.
Even though Barcelona ended the first half in the lead in pretty much every important statistical category, one would struggle mightily to make a case that Valencia didn’t deserve to be in the lead. They were everything Barcelona were not - they were decisive, organized and well prepared, and could’ve lead by more at the break.
Changes were desperately needed, two of them coming immediately after the break, with Malcom replacing Semedo, sending Roberto to the right-back spot, and Arturo Vidal taking Arthur’s place. The Catalans quickly created a couple half-chances that went untaken while Valencia quickly countered with a chance of their own that went just wide. Barcelona were pushing forward, also creating a good look for Messi from a free kick, but the score remained unchanged.
Compared to the first half, this was an improved Barcelona team as Malcom brought plenty of life to the right side of the attack. The Brazilian was involved in Barcelona’s best chance, in the 56th minute, laying the ball off to Messi inside the area from where the Argentine brilliantly fired on goal, only to be denied by the far post. The rebound fell to Vidal, but the Chilean shanked it high over the bar.
Barcelona’s press continued, with the occasional break for a Valencia counter, but time was running out for Barcelona. Attacks came and misses followed, first by Pique, then by Coutinho, but Coutinho’s miss led to a corner kick which did lead to a goal. The cross was sent in and Lenglet’s header was palmed away by a diving Domenech. The rebound, however, fell right to Messi who tapped it into the empty net.
With 15 minutes left to play, another cooling break was whistled for, during which Valverde made his final substitution, pulling Rakitić off the pitch and replacing him with Carles Alena. Despite needing a goal to take the game into overtime, Barcelona showed little urgency and also created very little noteworthy. Valencia maintained a defensive formation that the Catalans couldn’t break through.
Five minutes were added on to extend Barcelona’s hope. Most of Barcelona’s attacks came from the right side where Malcom and Messi were combining, but Valencia were clearing and blocking away everything. In the third minute of added time, Gonçalo Guedes went alone on Cillessen but fired wide. Moments later, with Cillessen in attack for a corner kick, Guedes tried his luck from very long range, but missed the empty net. But those two misses mattered little as the full time whistle followed and Valencia were crowned Copa del Rey Champions.
A very promising season was in the cards for Barcelona as they came into May with a chance of making more history, competing for a treble, a historic fifth consecutive Copa del Rey, however, this one will go down in history as one of the most disappointing ones in recent memory. All but an already clinched La Liga title was lost down the stretch and as a result the upcoming off-season could be a busy one for the Catalans.