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Messi’s cup final magic outshone by delightful De Jong

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The Dutchman was magnificent against Athletic

ESP: Athletic Club - FC Barcelona. Copa del Rey 2020-2021, Final. Photo by Antonio Pozo / Pressinphoto / Icon Sport

The morning after the night before and there’ll be a few sore heads in Barcelona, because that was a Copa del Rey final performance worthy of all-night celebrations.

Barca’s magnificence against Athletic Club was on a par with the epic 2018 win over Sevilla, and the 2021 edition perhaps even edged it.

The Catalans were dominant in every aspect and, for once, the team that didn’t want to play football and was just hoping for crumbs on the counter-attack, were put to the sword.

We’d already seen too many times this season those outfits that were content to sit back and allow Barca to pass the ball around for the most part, only to hit Koeman’s side on the break with a smash and grab.

A goalless first half, despite some gilt-edged chances being passed up, left one thinking ‘not again,’ but thanks to a glorious 12-minute burst in the second half, the first trophy of the Koeman/Laporta era was in the bag long before the final whistle.

Lionel Messi, who else, would be the architect of one of the goals of the season. One that, whilst not all of his own work, probably deserves to sit alongside the one he scored against the same opponents at the same stage in 2015.

Athletic will be largely disappointed given that they’d passed up the chance of the 2020 title a couple of weeks beforehand, but their lacklustre showing can’t take away from the magnificence of Barca’s work on the night.

It’s not often that Messi is outshone in any game ether, let alone a final, but Frenkie de Jong certainly did so in La Cartuja.

The Dutchman was everywhere. At the hub of each Barca attack, providing an extra man in defence when required and breaking the lines at will.

His goal was a reward for his industry and if not a ‘coming of age’ performance for the Catalans, then it was mightily close.

When those around him, such as Busi and Pedri, are also in tune, it allows De Jong the licence to get about the pitch, and he’s never better than when marauding forward with pace and directness.

Each player did what they had to do in a big game - finally, and Ronald Koeman also got it spot on tactically and from the point of view of which personnel to use in what was his biggest game of the campaign.

Antoine Griezmann could’ve had a hat-trick but will be happy with the goal that sparked off that wonderful spell too.

All in all, it was the best night’s work for the Blaugrana in a while, and once again hints at better times around the corner.

Now for La Liga...