First leg result: Barcelona 1-0 Valencia
Barcelona injuries: Ousmane Dembele, Thomas Vermaelen
Valencia injuries: Andreas Pereira, Gonçalo Guedes, Jeison Murillo
Date/Time: Friday, February 9, 2018, 12:30am GST
Venue: Estadio de Mestalla, València, Spain
Where to watch: beIN SPORTS / beIN SPORTS CONNECT (stream)
Luis Suarez‘s second-half goal from last week’s encounter separates the two sides, with the striker in a rich vein of form having put his early-season struggles behind him. However, the Uruguayan will have to watch his step at the Mestalla, as a yellow card will see him miss the final should Barcelona go through.
Valencia were excellent defensively at the Camp Nou, and keeping the deficit down to 1-0 gives them a good chance of pulling off an upset.
They’ll need to be more adventurous in search of a goal to level the tie, which may leave them vulnerable – but despite a recent slump, Valencia’s own attack is potent, and thrilling. Barcelona’s lead is far from a guarantee of getting them through.
The winners will face Sevilla in the final who beat Leganes 2-0 on Wednesday to advance 3-1 on aggregate.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Cillessen; Roberto, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Iniesta, Paulinho; Messi, Suárez, Coutinho
Valencia (4-4-2): Jaume; Montoya, Gabriel, Garay, Gaya; Soler, Parejo, Kondogbia, Lato; Rodrigo, Santi Mina
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde says he will not attempt to curb Luis Suarez‘s aggression ahead of Thursday night’s Copa del Rey semi-final second leg, despite Suarez being one yellow card away from being suspended for the final should his team prevail over Valencia.
Suarez, who has earned eight yellow cards across all competitions, missed last year’s final through suspension as well, not featuring in Barcelona’s win over Deportivo Alaves for their only trophy of the season.
“I’ve spoken with Luis Suarez about his character on the odd occasion,” Valverde said. “The aggression he has in attack, with how he looks for space and goals, is good for us, even if sometimes it can lead to a booking or something.
“But now we’ve got a semi-final to play. Suarez is experienced and he knows how to look after himself. We’re going to give everything to win. We will worry about the future later.”
Suarez has scored nine goals across all competitions in 2018, and thus he would be a big miss if Barcelona were to reach the final and he were to be suspended.
For now, the striker is concentrating on closing the tie against Valencia, with Barcelona holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg at the Camp Nou last week.
“It’s a minimal advantage that we have because there are 90 minutes left,” Suarez had said after the first leg.
“Valencia at home are always stronger and even more so in a Copa semi-final.”
The runaway La Liga leaders hold a slender advantage and will be hoping to keep alive their trophy treble hopes with safe passage through to the final.
However, Los Che displayed their resilience in the first leg and having been resurrected by boss Marcelino, will provide arguably Barca’s toughest test of the season so far.
With that in mind, we look at the key battles which could form the central narrative for the last-four tie.
RODRIGO MORENO V SAMUEL UMTITI
Marcelino’s success is built on defensive rigidity within a 4-4-2 framework using pace on the counter to create chances.
When Ivan Rakitic was brought off in the first leg, Los Che looked to break the lines but found their path blocked by the tower of strength Umtiti.
The Frenchman, alongside Lionel Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, has been one of Barca’s outstanding performers this season and the 24-year-old produced a monstrous display in the first leg (two blocks, two interceptions, two tackles and 58 passes)
At the Mestalla, however, Rodrigo Moreno has already plundered against Barca this season, opening the scoring with a close-range strike in the corresponding league fixture.
Marcelino’s penchant for technical players has brought the very best out of the 26-year-old this season and with Yerry Mina set to debut, Umtiti will be expected to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the forward doesn’t add to his 12-goal haul this season.
GEOFFREY KONDOGBIA V LIONEL MESSI
Kondogbia missed the first leg through injury but returned for Sunday’s La Liga defeat to Atletico Madrid and was superb.
It’s difficult to comprehend the midfielder’s absence from the France squad but with this season being his first real show of consistency after years on the move, the 24-year-old is finally beginning to fulfill his promise.
Another player revived by Marcelino, no one at Valencia has made more tackles (59) or blocked more passes (21) than Kondogbia with the Inter Milan loanee registering second for interceptions (31), successful dribbles (28), headers won (31) and passes made (976) for Los Che in the league this season.
Simply put, he’s been a colossus in every area of the game, screening the defence well, breaking up play, retaining possession under pressure and picking intelligent passes.
It’s at this juncture we introduce the man who needs no introduction. The list of superlatives to describe Lionel Messi run as long as his achievements but the Argentine’s blurred role of playmaker/goalscorer has elevated him to a new level this season.
In Valverde’s 4-4-2 he’s been handed a free role to create from deep then attack the box and his venomous ability to effectively stroll before snapping into action means Kondogbia will have to be at full concentration to limit his impact.
EZEQUIEL GARAY V LUIS SUAREZ
Suarez’s slow start after an injury ravaged pre-season was mistakenly analysed as a marker of his decline.
At 31, the Uruguayan’s powers of persistence married to his unnerving ability to find a finish were believed to be on the wane but he is once again proving he’s arguably the best centre-forward on the planet.
He’s scored 13 goals in his last 12 games across all competitions and plundered the crucial winner at Camp Nou in the first leg – his ninth in nine against Los Che making them his favourite opponent in a Barca shirt.
The visitor’s three-pronged avenue of creation – Messi through the middle, full-backs Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba out wide – ensures the supply line to Suarez is well stocked and it will be on the returning Ezequiel Garay to marshal the forward.
Suarez is a yellow card away from missing the final and the fear of a booking could play into Garay’s gameplan, however.
After all, it doesn’t take much to wind up Suarez and his enthusiasm is half his style, curbing that could suppress Barca.