Barcelona are safely through to this season’s Copa del Rey quarter-finals thanks to a 3-1 win away to third tier Unionistas de Salamanca on Thursday evening. The Catalans fell behind after a poor first half but thoroughly dominated the final period, and got contributions from unlikely sources to find the winning goals, complete the comeback and guarantee a spot in the next round of the Spanish Cup.
Barça almost started the game by going behind just 30 seconds in when Mario Losada found himself one-on-one with Iñaki Peña, but the striker fired his shot just wide and missed a huge early chance for the hosts.
The Catalans eventually took control of possession and the game settled into its predicted pattern, with Unionistas choosing sitting back to absorb pressure while Barça tried to break the opposition down and create chances.
The Blaugrana usually struggle against parked buses and that was the case again in the opening half-hour, with the only real chance coming on a hopeful cross that found Marc Guiu in great position inside the box, but the young striker’s volley was well saved by Iván Martínez. There were a couple of other moments of potential danger, but Barça never truly looked like scoring in the first 30 minutes.
Unionistas didn’t do much when they had the ball apart from the big scare at the start, but they needed only one more chance to find the breakthrough: Juan Serrano played a great cross from the left wing and found Álvaro Gómez all alone at the far post, and the right winger scored a gorgeous volley to give the home team a shocking lead.
Barça showed very little urgency to try and score a quick equalizer and continued to slowly pass the ball all over the attacking half without any penetration or dangerous movement, and Unionistas looked very comfortable at the back.
The home team nearly doubled their lead just before the break on a counter-attack, with Jorge Rastrojo’s shot needing a big stop from Peña. And from the ensuing corner came an unlikely but crucial Barça equalizer: João Félix won the ball in midfield and released Ferran Torres, who got in behind the defense and was able to run all alone with time to pick his spot and beat the keeper to make the game all square in the 45th minute.
The halftime whistle came shortly after, and Barça found a way to get back in the game despite being outplayed in the first half. The tie was wide open going into the final period, and Barça needed to play a lot better to score the winning goals and avoid a historic upset.
Barça came out with a little more pep in their step and started moving the ball a little bit quicker and with more purpose. They couldn’t create a real chance, however, and the game was still tied at 1-1 at the hour mark.
Xavi Hernández went to his bench and made a triple change as Pedri, Ilkay Gündogan and Robert Lewandowski came on looking to use their talent and experience to help the team find the winning goal.
Barça’s play improved with the trio on the pitch, but they didn’t need to be involved in the Catalans’ second goal: it came courtesy of Jules Kounde, who decided to try his luck from distance and fired a rocket from 30 yards out that went into the corner with no chance for the keeper. It was an amazing strike, and a crucial goal as we entered the final 20 minutes.
Unionistas had no time to try and mount a charge for the equalizer thanks to another great individual effort by a Barça defender just four minutes after Kounde’s goal: Alejandro Balde received a pass on the wing and decided to go on an amazing solo run all by himself through the defense, and the left-back showed great confidence to smash the ball home off the crossbar and double Barça’s lead to pretty much settle the tie.
The home team was clearly affected by the two quick goals and lost all of their momentum heading into the final 10 minutes, and only a poor mistake from Barça at the back could complicate their lives at the end. Peña needed to make a big save and there were a couple of nervous moments in added time, but the Blaugrana managed to protect their two-goal lead and run out the clock.
The final whistle came to send Barça to the quarter-finals, and the second half performance was exactly what you’d expect of a superior team establishing their dominance on the road against a third tier side. Barça still have to improve a lot to compete with top tier teams, but they took a step in the right direction in the final 45 minutes. As long as they build on that, they’ll be fine.
Unionistas: Martínez; Giménez, Ruiz, Mayor, Jiménez (Rojo 60’); Gómez, Tur (Villar 46’), Gómez (Nespral 60’), Serrano; Rastrojo (Slavy 60’), Losada (Teijeira 79’)
Goal: Gómez (31’)
Barcelona: Peña; Roberto, Kounde, Christensen (Cubarsí 46’), Balde; Romeu, De Jong; Ferran (Roque 82’), Fermín (Pedri 61’), Félix (Gündogan 61’); Guiu (Lewandowski 61’)
Goals: Ferran (45’), Kounde (69’), Balde (73’)