Barcelona eked out a 1-0 win to drive home the first-leg advantage against Valencia in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, thanks to a Luis Suarez goal.
Barcelona went into the match confident of their ability to come out of the first-leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final in an advantageous position. Ernesto Valverde persisted with his 4-4-2 formation, which neutralised the playing style and space afforded to Valencia’s creative players.
The match looked to be heading towards a stalemate before Lionel Messi put the ball on a platter for Luis Suarez to finish, which he did with a header that could not be stopped despite attempts of intervention. Barcelona go into the second-leg with a narrow 1-0 lead over Valencia.
The Hard Tackle now takes a look at how each individual fared on Thursday.
Jasper Cillessen – 7
— Barca Fans Nigeria (@BarcaNaija) February 2, 2018
Had literally nothing to do the entire match. But, the goalkeeper is afforded a slightly above-average rating, solely due to his intervention in the last minute of regulation time as Santi Mina raced clear. The Dutchman came out of his area to clear the ball from harm’s way, which prevented Valencia from equalising.
The away goal can often decide these games and we may look back upon Cillessen’s clearance as the game-changer for Barcelona after the second leg.
Sergi Roberto – 6.5
A quiet outing for Roberto on the right side of the defence. There were quite a few eyebrows raised as he was chosen ahead of natural right-back Nelson Semedo. But, he dealt with the danger well and did nothing to not justify his selection.
Gerard Pique – 6.5
Despite not conceding a goal, the Barcelona backline was never threatened much, with Pique not having much to do. He could have had a goal to himself as he plunged his foot forward to connect to the incoming ball from the free-kick. But, failed to do so. A quiet but commanding performance from the experienced customer.
Samuel Umtiti – 7.0
Looked assured at the back and has quickly become the go-to defender to produce crunching tackles in order to prevent the opposition from threatening the goal. The Frenchman is blossoming into a world-beater. Not long before, perhaps, an improved contract is handed to the defender.
Jordi Alba – 7.0
Jordi Alba was his usual self, being a nuisance on the left flank for Valencia. Had almost nothing to do on the defensive front. But, his rating is justified from his invaluable contribution in the only goal of the match. Alba ran down the left flank before squaring the ball to Lionel Messi, who then produced a peach of a ball for Luis Suarez to finish. Good performance from the speeding left-back.
Aleix Vidal – 5.5
One has to wonder as to why Valverde is persisting with a 4-4-2 formation, especially with Aleix Vidal being preferred on the left midfield. Surely, the manager has better options at his disposal if he wants to stick with the 4-4-2. The Spaniard did nothing of note before being subbed off and is a prime candidate to exit the club in the summer.
Ivan Rakitic – 6.5
Much has been made of Rakitic and his displays. But, the Croatian put in a credible and all-round shift in midfield, doing all the duties that a central midfielder in a 4-4-2 has to perform. Executed the set-pieces well, with Barcelona coming close on two occasions. Good performance to build upon.
Sergio Busquets – 7.5
A usually assured and classy performance from the lanky midfielder. The player exudes confidence and his ability to pass himself out of danger is an underrated trait. If people think of Barcelona having to dig their heels in order to lay down a succession plan for Messi, Busquets will be equally hard to replace.
Andres Iniesta – 7.0
Andres Iniesta just gets better and better with age, like a fine wine. pic.twitter.com/kU3Pb4S32E
— Leo Messi (@messi10stats) January 28, 2018
One player who has benefitted from Valverde’s choice of formation is the veteran Spaniard. Iniesta has excelled on the left side of the pitch and almost had a goal to his name, if not for the save from close range Domenech. The veteran is showing he still has the pace and vigour to run up and down the wide areas. Class personified.
Lionel Messi – 8.5
All eyes on Messi. pic.twitter.com/GXYAdlYcra
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 1, 2018
How many times to do you see Lionel Messi being the highest-rated player for Barcelona? It was the Argentine again, who did the trick for the home side on Thursday. He ran circles around the Valencia players and while he did not score, it was not for lack of trying.
His sublime cross for Suarez set his fellow Latin American brilliantly for the winner.
Luis Suarez – 7.0
Yes, he did score the winner. But, people expect a better all-round performance from Barcelona’s number 9. He had the chance to score in the first-half itself as Iniesta’s shot from close range was parried by the keeper. But, Suarez failed to balance himself and missed the rebound and a chance at an easy goal.
Even his header was not as great and could have been averted on another day. Lucky to grab the goal. Was good but needs to do better as fans expect more from the complete forward.
Philippe Coutinho – 5.5
Is one of the options Valverde has to look towards in place of Aleix Vidal. The player came on for the latter just around the hour mark. But, he did not involve himself much in the game. Needs a bit more time to adapt better to his new surroundings.
Paulinho – 5.5
Was mostly brought on in order to freshen up the midfield and provide fresh legs to preserve and perhaps, extend their lead. But, Paulinho was quiet and did not do much of note before the final whistle.
Paco Alcacer – 6.5
Was lively after coming on for Andres Iniesta. The striker produced a cracker of a long-range effort which, if not for the brilliant tipping save from Domenech, could have doubled Barcelona’s advantage and seen him score against his former side.