Just last month, we were talking about Barcelona being in crisis. Now, a few short weeks later, and they could be in line to win the treble. On Wednesday against Villarreal in the Copa del Rey, they were far from perfect on. But Luis Enrique’s men got the job done with a 3-1 win that sets them up nicely for the second leg.
It was far from a vintage Barca performance and there were mistakes made that could prove costly, depending on how the second leg plays out. But throughout all their ups and downs this season, Barcelona has managed to soldier on. Barring any great surprised from Villarreal, they’re looking like favorites to advance in the Cup, they’re one point behind Real Madrid in the table, and on current form, favorites to advance past Manchester City in the Champions League.
Nonetheless, this is not to diminish a Villarreal side that made life difficult for them on the night and could do so again in the second leg. It took Barca until the 40th minute to find a breakthrough; with Luis Suarez riding a tackle from Mateo Musacchio and centering for Lionel Messi, who slotted home the opener.
Messi didn’t have the greatest night overall though. He was vomiting throughout the match, had a shot saved by the keeper and badly miss-hit a couple of other efforts.
Having spurned a number of chances to build on their lead in the dying minutes of the first half, Barca gave up an equalizer, just three minutes into the second. Suarez, who’d created Barca’s goal, carelessly gave the ball away to Manuel Trisqueros. The striker took a touch to settle before blasting a shot past the hapless Marc-Andre’ ter Stegen.
But Barca responded instantly through Andres Iniesta on a give and go with Suarez. Receiving the ball from the Uruguayan the Spanish World Cup winner blasted home, despite the cloud of Villarreal defenders closing in on him.
Jonathon Dos Santos was down at the time and Villarreal were playing with 10-men, But Barca were ruthless in their determination, and pressed their man advantage to take the lead.
It was Gerard Pique who finally put the game out of Villarreal’s reach with a powerful header on a set piece in the 64th minute that made it 3-1.
However Barca missed a chance to kill the tie off completely when they were awarded a penalty late in the match. Neymar stepped to the spot and performed his trademark wind-up walk, only to be denied by a solid save from Sergio Asenjo.
In the end, it was a gritty performance from Barcelona, but it got the job done against a Villarreal side that had come to be physical. This Barca side may not yet be setting the world alight with their football, but they’re coming into form at just the right time in the season.
With all the heat on Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Enrique’s men also have the rare advantage of being more under the radar than Barca sides of the previous few seasons. That could keep the pressure off of them as they continue to vie for silverware on three fronts. They may not win the treble, but on current form, Barcelona look unlikely to go without a trophy for a second season in a row.