In a Copa del Rey of crazy upsets, the all-time champions are out. Barcelona were eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in San Mamés in heartbreaking fashion, losing 1-0 thanks to a late winner by Iñaki Williams in a match Barça simply did not deserve to lose. But they did, and a terrible week for the Catalan giants gets even worse.
From the very beginning this felt and looked like a knockout game, with high pressure and intensity from both sides and very little space to create chances in front of goal. Barça were the better team as they kept the ball more and looked more dangerous with it, but Athletic had a couple of opportunities as well thanks to their high pressing and a couple of shaky moments with the ball at his feet by Marc-André ter Stegen.
When it came to chances there was really just one: early in the game Lionel Messi made one of his trademark runs and found Ansu Fati, who fired a shot with his left foot and came within inches of a goal thanks to a great block at the goalline by Unai Núñez. Bilbao’s best moment came from a bad pass by Ter Stegen and a very dangerous strike by Dani García.
At halftime Barça were slightly better, but this was anyone’s game as we reached the final 45 minutes.
Barça were absolutely dominant to start the second half: as Athletic’s pressure slowed down and spaces started to open up inside the final third, the Blaugrana sent more bodies forward and were very aggressive with their passing and runs around and into the box, with Frenkie De Jong especially having the freedom to run forward and play as a second false nine alongside Messi.
De Jong was involved in two penalty situations: the first resulted in a yellow card for simulation, and the second was a clear push in the Dutch’s back by Ander Capa that was somehow ignored by both the on-field referee and VAR.
Barça were clearly the only team who wanted to win this in regulation, and Arthur’s substitution completely changed the game: the Brazilian came on, looked fantastic on the ball, and created the two biggest chances of the night with a couple of genius passes. Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi found themselves on the receiving end of those passes all alone in front of goal, but Unai Simón made two spectacular stops to save Athletic’s life.
And then, heartbreak. After a cross from Ander Capa, Iñaki Williams headed home the winner at the 93rd minute, and Barça are out of the Copa del Rey in brutal fashion.
Athletic: Simón; Yeray, Núñez, Martínez; Capa, Dani García, Vesga (San José 65’), Yuri; Raúl García (Ibai 88’), Muniain (Aduriz 77’), Williams
Goal: Williams (90’+3)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué (Umtiti 79’), Lenglet, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Rakitic (Arthur 68’); Roberto, Messi, Ansu Fati (Griezmann 57’)