Barcelona began their Copa del Rey title defense with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Linares Deportivo on the road to advance to the Round of 16. Barça dominated the entire match and should have put the tie out of sight, but missed a lot of chances and had to come from behind in the second half to get the win and move on in the Cup.
Barça approached the first half as they should against a Third Division side: utterly dominant. The Blaugrana had over 80% possession and sent plenty of bodies forward and created several chances to score at least once or twice, but poor finishing and bad decision-making in the final third kept them from scoring.
Linares sat back in a compact 4-4-2 shape trying to close spaces and hit Barça on the counter, and they only created one chance but it was enough to give them a goal: Carnicer sent a cross into the box from the right wing, and Hugo Díaz found himself alone inside the six-yard box thanks to a mistake from Óscar Mingueza and headed home the opener.
Barça kept attacking throughout the rest of the half and should have found an equalizer, but their problems in front of goal continued and the home team were 45 minutes away from a giant upset. Could Barça turn it around in the second half?
Xavi brought the big guns out for the second half, with Gerard Piqué, Frenkie De Jong and Ousmane Dembélé all coming on after the interval to try and spark the comeback. Dembélé was the brightest of the trio and completely took over the game with his pace and skill, and he was involved in everything good Barça did in the first 15 minutes of the half.
The Blaugrana continued to create and miss chance after chance, but they finally found the back of the net thanks to a beautiful curler by Dembélé from 25 yards into the bottom corner. Just five minutes later, a quick counter-attack ended with a great finish from Ferran Jutglà and Barça were 2-1 up with 20 minutes to go.
Linares didn’t give up and had a goal disallowed for offside and hit the crossbar not long after, and the game still looked up for grabs as we reached the last 10 minutes. Barça looked to manage the game with good and smart possession work, but they kept making silly mistakes and losing easy balls in midfield which gave Linares the chance to attack.
But the home team wasn’t able to come up with a real scoring opportunity and Barça were able to run out the clock, and the final whistle came to send the champs to the Round of 16. Barça made this a lot tougher than they should have, and the need for a top striker became even more evident in this one. It should have been five or six, at least. Instead, it was unnecessarily nervous. But a win is a win, especially with 15 players out.
Linares: Razak; Perejón, Guerrero, Josema, Barbosa; Sanchidrián (Luna 88’), Meléndez (Carracedo 56’), Rodri, Carnicer (Marín 56’); Díaz (Etxaniz 70’ (Castillo 88’)), Copete
Goal: Díaz (19’)
Barcelona: Neto; Mingueza, Eric, Araujo (Piqué 46’); Akhomach (Dembélé 46’), Alves, Busquets, Puig (De Jong 46’ (Sanz 75’)), Alba; Nico, Jutglà
Goals: Dembélé (63’), Jutglà (69’)