Barca’s wild Copa campaign continues
Barcelona enjoyed another wild night in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday and secured the win that means they will play in the final on April 17 against either Athletic or Levante.
The Catalan giants have not made life easy for themselves in the competition this season that’s for sure and have relied on late goals. They needed extra-time to see off Cornella, came from behind against Rayo Vallecano and came back from the dead against Granada.
Another comeback was needed against Sevilla and it nearly didn’t arrive. Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s penalty save was vital, while Barca had to wait until the 94th minute for Gerard Pique’s moment of magic.
Yet somehow Barca managed to pull it off. Martin Braithwaite grabbed the third, Clement Lenglet survived a late penalty shout, and Barca now have a very real chance of lifting the trophy this season. Yet if the season has taught us anything, it’s to expect more drama in the final.
Pique makes Sevilla pay
One of the big reasons for Barcelona’s win was indeed Pique. The 34-year-old was superb at the back for the hosts and popped up when it mattered with the vital goal. His crazy celebration into the TV cameras said it all but was matched by Messi also celebrating widly on the other side of the pitch when Pique’s header went in.
Seeing Messi this happy is what it’s all about ❤️ pic.twitter.com/o6I4CTJmSf— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 4, 2021
Sevilla had mocked Pique two weeks ago after the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain, but there’s no question the center-back had the last laugh on Wednesday night.
It was an epic moment from Pique who also appears to have escaped injury despite ending the game hobbling after hurting his knee. Early reports suggest the injury isn’t too serious, although he is likely to miss the next two weeks.
Smells like team spirit
Pique will take most of the headlines and it would be easy to also single out goalscorers Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite and Marc-Andre ter Stegen for his penalty save too, but credit really deserves to go to the whole squad for what was a memorable night at the Camp Nou.
It was a real team performance that showed a new-found unity at Barcelona. Just watch Dembele using his pace to help out Pique in the first half, or Antoine Griezmann, who had been benched for the third match running, coming on and teeing up Pique for the winner. And then there was Braithwaite, in typically humble fashion, insisting Ter Stegen’s save was more important than his goal after the match.
Despite conceding the penalty, which was harsh in my completely unbiased (ahem) opinion, Oscar Mingueza also deserves huge credit for his performance and looks at home as part of a three-man central defence, while Frenkie de Jong didn’t stop running all night and Jordi Alba shone again.
Credit must also go to Koeman for his willingness to switch formation and the unity he’s brought to the team. His commitment to youth is also great to see, particularly the decision to bring on Ilaix Moriba with Barca still needing at least one more goal.
Can Barca turn their season around?
One other notable thing about Barca’s performance was the belief in the squad. Pique said after the weekend win over Sevilla in La Liga that the team could turn their season around if they won in the Copa del Rey too and certainly things look a lot brighter now.
Barca now have a final to look forward to next month and remain in the race for the title. They could cut the gap at the weekend with some intriguing fixtures up next in the Spanish top flight.
Atletico take on Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano, while Barca play Osasuna. If Atleti lose and Barca win the gap at the top will be just two points (although Diego Simeone’s side will still have a game in hand).
And then it’s off to Paris in the Champions League where another, even bigger. comeback is needed. It still looks unlikely, despite the euphoria of beating Sevilla, and Koeman admitted as much after the game.
“It’s easier to come back from 2-0 than to come back from 1-4,” he said before adding, “PSG have a great team and great players. We will start the game to win, to see if there is a chance to go through.”
There is still a chance, albeit a very small one, but Barca will travel to the Parc des Princes with confidence and belief and in the knowledge that even if they do go out it won’t signal the end of their season just yet.