New Copa format delivers surprises
Los Blancos suffered a surprise 4-3 defeat to Real Sociedad in a thriller at the Santiago Bernabeu, while a last-gasp Inaki Williams goal dumped Barca out at San Mames.
The goal ends Barcelona’s decade of dominance in the competition. The Catalan giants have been to the final for the last six years and have reached the last nine semi-finals in a row.
9 - It has finished the best Copa del Rey’s streak reaching semifinals in a row (@FCBarcelona nine, 2011-2019). Barcelona weren’t eliminated since 2010 vs Sevilla, the team secured the title in that edition. Overthrow#CopadelRey2020 #FCBarcelona pic.twitter.com/XnH7BLfiHK— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 6, 2020
Barcelona might have gone through too if the format of the competition had not been changed to a single-legged affair. Quique Setien’s men are pretty formidable at the Camp Nou and would have fancied their chances of overturning a 1-0 deficit.
However, that is no longer the case and Athletic’s win completes an unlikely semi-final selection that also includes second-tier Mirandes, Granada and Real Sociedad.
The previous structure meant upsets in Spain’s cup competition were few and far between, but the new format has brought shocks aplenty and means the trophy will not be lifted by one of Spain’s heavyweights this season.
Pique injury another concern for Setien
Gerard Pique hobbled off in the second half of the match to hand Quique Setien yet another concern ahead of some crucial fixtures.
The centre-back trained in the gym before the game due to a fever, but his latest knock will cause concern even though he and Setien played it down after the match.
The injury came as he lost out in a race with Inaki Williams, hauled the striker to the turf, picking up a booking and an injury all at the same time. The 33-year-old now has 15 bookings for the season from 28 appearances.
Pique now has time to rest as he is not available for the weekend due to suspension anyway, leaving Setien with just 14 fit senior first-team players available for the trip to Real Betis.
Samuel Umtiti should partner Clement Lenglet at centre-back at the Benito Villamain, while Barca B’s Ronald Araujo may get called into the squad as back-up.
Setien will be praying his defenders come through the match unscathed because any more injuries will leave him seriously lacking in options and highlight once again what a short-sighted decision it was to send Jean-Clair Todibo out on loan midway through the season.
Barcelona facing trophyless season
While Barcelona can take positives from the defeat, there are definite signs of change under Setien and the away performance was good, it does leave the club facing a trophyless season.
Real Madrid’s exit at the hands of Real Sociedad before kick-off would have made Barca favourites to go on and win the tournament before Athletic ended their hopes.
The defeat means Barca now have to focus on La Liga and the Champions League. The champions have fallen three points behind Madrid at the top of the table in Spain and have a tough trip to Betis on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in the Champions League an improving Napoli await. The Serie A side have had a tough season but have won their last three games in a row against Lazio, Juventus and Sampdoria
Setien didn’t seen too upset with the defeat, insisting it was a step in the right direction after the match, while Pique echoed those thoughts and said the team were improving and getting used to life under the new manager.
Thursday’s Copa defeat does lighten Barcelona’s workload, as the semi-final is a two-legged affair, and means Setien’s shallow squad can now focus on their priorities for the rest of their campaign.