Copa del Rey: Málaga 2, FC Barcelona 4 (4-6 aggr)… Onwards is the only way forwards.By: Ade C. | January 25th, 2013
Well, they did it. At midnight on a Thursday, as Xavi’s birthday began, and with nowhere near the ease you could expect from seeing the scoreline, Barça beat Málaga to qualify for the Copa del Rey semifinals… against Real Madrid.
But that’s another story and shall be told at another time.
Apparently, people thought this was going to be an easy match, I don’t know why. Barça certainly got a lovely 1-3 at La Rosaleda ten days ago, but the way a ten-man Málaga clawed their way back to a draw in the first leg should have been warning sign enough.
And indeed, Roura seemed to know this, as he deployed a very shiny starting XI -Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Iniesta and Messi-, full of the tried and the true and the somewhat well-rested. In Isco’s absence due to injury, Pellegrini chose to play Kameni, Jesús Gámez, Demichelis, Weligton, Eliseu, Seba, Camacho, Iturra, Duda, Joaquín and Santa Cruz.
Let’s get this out of the way first: the pitch was awful. We hear even Pellegrini complained about it, and players were slipping and falling right, left and centre, like twenty-two Alexises. But this is the same pitch that Barça won 1-3 ten days ago, and no one complained then, so let us not complain now.
The match promised to be lively, and boy, was it ever. Once the players got used to playing on an ice-skating rink, Messi interrupted a Málaga attack and then Dani Alves served a perfect cross for Pedro to score with the awkwardest header ever.
Pray, notice the excellent Dani Alves cross and how he for once showed some vague understanding of the offside rule.
But, alas, where the attack is willing, the defence is weak. Not five minutes after Pedro’s goal, Joaquín scored the equaliser with a great shot.
But that’s OK, right? Barça can always just score more than they concede, right? RIGHT?! Or not so right, because Málaga had as many and as good chances to go ahead in the scoreline as Barça did: Pinto did a good job in front of his goal, as Kameni and the crossbar did for Málaga. It was a muddled first half, full of slipping and Málaga fouls, and we went to half-time with a scoreline that would see Málaga through.
Barça players were not happy. They slipped and snapped at the ref and were fouled constantly, and looked as pleased as Messi sitting on the bench. It would take a special man to reanimate the match. It would take a talented man, a man who would not shrink under pressure, a man with a strong presence in the box and cold-blooded finishing. It would take… Piqué.
I’m not just being mean when I say that Piqué is a better striker than he is a defender. He has proved time and time again to have an excellent scoring quality, and if it weren’t because he has to leave his position and traipse across the pitch to try, we would support his striker tendencies a lot more.
So, 1-2 (3-4 on aggregate)! Now, all Barça had to do was keep possession and not concede… and the first thing Barça do when they’re not supposed to concede is, of course, concede. Because no matter how in hand this team seems to have the match, no matter how they control the possession and how many chances they have, all it takes with Barça is one of many defensive slip-ups and BAM! Down again. Just look at this stat and weep: Barça have conceded a hair-rising 37 goals in 34 matches this season.
Santa Cruz was the one responsible for the second equaliser.
Málaga, who had been dragging a little, felt rejuvenated after this goal, and started to attack more. Fortunately, this also meant they opened a little space for Barça, who finally (finally!) understood the urgency of the situation and set out to remedy it.
Enter Iniesta, stage left, always there when Barça need a late, crucial goal.
Credit to Cesc for a lovely assist, after a forgettable match with enough flopping about to embarrass Busquets, Alexis, and a fish out of water.
And because he can’t go a match without scoring, Messi -who had been pretty invisible so far, except for a couple of Alexiesque misses-, put the final nail in Málaga’s coffin with a goal which was a perfect copy of Pedro’s first: excellent Dani Alves cross followed by awkward header.
And yes, don’t think I haven’t noticed this is the second time I have to type “excellent Dani Alves cross” today.
But the drama was not over! Oh no, we still had to suffer through a small panic attack when Leo ‘I pout unbecomingly when I can’t play every single minute of every single match’ Messi asked to be subbed out. “A precaution” said Roura after the match. “Some discomfort”. Well, after Villa’s last “precaution”, we’re still on red alert until we see Messi playing again.
(all goal videos via the wizard that is @Emenderk)
All in all, it was a fun match, but not a particularly good one on Barça’s side. Credit to Málaga and Pellegrini for setting up an excellent team for both legs and getting much closer to beating Barça than most teams would get, all without renouncing to their style.
Now, we’re to face Real Madrid in the semifinals… you want a Clásico? There are four to come! A mini-Clasico this Sunday (Barça B host Real Madrid Castilla), the first leg of the Copa del Rey Clásico on Wednesday, then the return leg on the last week of February, and the Liga Clásico at the Bernabéu on the first weekend of March.
Pinto: 8. Some good saves, not much he could have done for the Málaga goals.
Dani Alves: 9,5. Wowza. After a worrying dip in form, Dani has come back with all engines running.
Piqué: 9. Lovely goal and good work on the attack. Occassionally, he tried to defend.
Mascherano: 7,5. Bit wobbly, not the best positioning, unnecessary yellow…
Jordi Alba: 8,5. Faster than a speeding bullet! Angrier than a very angry squirrel!
Busquets: 7,5. He worked overtime trying to help the defence and trying to supplement Xavi, but it wasn’t his best match.
Xavi: 7. Some credit to Málaga for caging him in effectively, but -maybe because he was thinking about his birthday cake-, he wasn’t at his best.
Cesc: 4. Nope. Just, no. This diving bullshit has to go. And the flopping about like a dying fish whenever a rival player makes contact, too. Plus, Cesc was invisble most of the match, except for the admittedly lovely assist for Iniesta.
Iniesta: 8,5. Good match, great goal, excellent skills. I still prefer him on midfield, but he is wonderfully showy and effective on the left wing now too.
Messi: 7,5. He scored yes, but he had some regrettable misses, some of which were because he got too cute with the finish.
Pedro: 9. This is our Pedroadrunner! Fast, hard-working, excellent in defence, solid in attack, helpful to all his teammates.
None of the subs had enough time to make an impact, so I won’t rate them, but it’s worth mentioning that Alexis went nearly 48 seconds between stepping on the pitch and falling for the first time. Improvement!
We still have to face Osasuna this weekend before we can complain about the Clásicos, so let’s focus on that first!
Some Related Barcelona Posts:
- Copa del Rey Preview: FC Barcelona vs Málaga. Here we go again…
- Copa del Rey review: Deportivo Alavés 0, FC Barcelona 3, Or, A Little Treat