Koeman picks up first trophy
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman picked up his first trophy since taking over as manager at the Camp Nou and saw his team eventually win in some style, putting four fine goals past Athletic.
It’s been a rollercoaster Copa del Rey campaign by Barcelona that has produced plenty of excitement and drama but there’s no doubt Barca were by far the better team on Saturday night.
Koeman was quizzed about his future before the game at his pre-match press conference and wasn’t too happy about the questions, but this win should offer more job security with Barca ensuring they will not finish the campaign empty-handed for a second straight season.
Question marks still remain over Koeman’s long-term suitability for the job, and his decision to put two goalkeepers on the bench and Riqui Puig in the stands was an odd one, but for now at least the Dutchman deserves plenty of credit.
De Jong delights for Barcelona
Captain Lionel Messi will take plenty of headlines for his performance against Athletic and was named the MVP but it must have been a mighty close call with Frenkie de Jong putting in a superb performance.
The Dutchman was back in midfield and scored a brilliant header to make it 2-0 and also popped up with two assists in a simply stellar showing.
3 - With one goal and two assists against Athletic, @FCBarcelona's Frenkie de Jong is the second player to be directly involved in three goals in a Copa del Rey final in the 21st century, after Lionel Messi against Sevilla in 2018 (one goal, two assists). Stellar. pic.twitter.com/iHotYlRKVl— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 17, 2021
The 23-year-old probably should have had another goal, hitting the post early on, but there’s no doubt at all about just how influential he was.
The midfielder seemed to be just about everywhere and fully deserved to land his first trophy as a Barcelona player.
Griezmann loves a final
Antoine Griezmann was also on target, scoring the opening goal for Barcelona, after being included in the starting XI ahead of Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman had missed a couple of chances but produced a good finish to finally break the deadlock on the hour.
The striker has come in for plenty of criticism during his time at Barcelona but his goal continues his excellent record when it comes to finding the back of the net in finals for club and country.
5 - Antoine Griezmann has scored six goals in his last five finals between club and country: Europa League (2), World Cup (1), Supercopa (2) and Copa del Rey (1). Prince. pic.twitter.com/HLAKqPnRzZ— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 17, 2021
It’s also a first Barcelona trophy for Griezmann who admitted after the game he’s had some tough times at the Camp Nou but remains keen to stay.
“We won the final. It was very important for us and the team,” he said. “There have been difficult moments, but I’m very happy here. You can miss passes and goals, but I always give my best and I think that’s what is most important. I want the best for the club.”
Messi makes more magic memories
And then there’s Messi who was back with a bang after a couple of quiet games following the international break. The captain’s first goal which made it 3-0 was typically brilliant, while his second brought up another record for his collection.
9 - Lionel Messi has scored nine goals in Copa del Rey 10 finals for @FCBarcelona, becoming the player with the most in the finals of the competition’s history (Telmo Zarra , eight). Crown. pic.twitter.com/mSzGg5838H— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 17, 2021
Yet perhaps the best moment of all was the size of the smile on Messi’s face when he lifted the Copa del Rey trophy for the first time as captain. It may have been his 35th trophy as a Barcelona player but he still couldn’t hide his delight as he celebrated.
Messi also offered some rare words after the match about how it was a “very special” moment, while his teammates queued up to have their picture with the captain and the Copa del Rey trophy.
We still don’t know if Messi will stay or not but if this was the captain’s last final with Barcelona, and let’s hope that’s not the case, then it was some way to sign off.
Now for the double?
Barcelona will enjoy themselves after winning the Copa del Rey and certainly seemed to have fun after the match. Gerard Pique, who was excellent on his return from injury, brought out the scissors once again and sprayed around the Cava back at the team hotel.
Yet Barca don’t have too much time to enjoy the win with a La Liga game against Getafe next up on Thursday. Winning the Copa del Rey should provide a boost ahead of the final eight La Liga games of the season.
Defeat in El Clasico last time out has hurt Barca’s titles hopes, but Ronald Koeman’s men certainly aren’t out of it yet, and Messi spoke about the title race after the win.
“We’ve won this trophy and there’s still a long way to go in La Liga,” he told Barca TV. “A lot’s going to happen between now and the end of the season.”
Finishing the campaign with the double would be an extraordinary achievement for Barca in a season of transition and still looks a long shot, but Saturday’s impressive win sends the team into the final weeks of the season in good shape and full of confidence.