A Luis Suarez goal in the 67th minute gave Barcelona a slender 1-0 victory over Valencia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final played at the Camp Nou.
Here are the three things learned from the clash.
ALL TO PLAY FOR?
This is an outcome both teams can be pretty happy with: Barcelona earned themselves a narrow advantage and kept a clean sheet, while Valencia avoided the kind of drubbing which would have rendered the second leg irrelevant.
So will there be everything to play for when the tie reconvenes at Mestalla next week? Of course, with just a one-goal disadvantage to overturn Valencia still have a perfectly realistic chance of advancing to the final. But the fact that Barca held them scoreless in this opening leg is a major advantage with the knowledge that just one away goal will need Valencia needing to score three.
It’s hard to envisage Lionel Messi and co failing to score if they are given space to exploit while Valencia chase the game, so Marcelino’s team will ideally need an early goal in the second leg to allow them to play sensibly for the rest of the game.
They will, however, certainly need to show more attacking intent than they did at Camp Nou, where home goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen marked a rare outing by being forced into just one save all night. And although the tie isn’t over, Barca are very much in control.
BARCA’S GOALS DRYING UP?
Although Barca will be happy enough with the outcome, they should also be somewhat frustrated that they only had one goal to show for all their possession and pressure – especially as visiting keeper Jaume Domenech wasn’t really forced to make many saves.
It was the second consecutive game that Barca have struggled to break down a visiting team defending deep and with discipline, following Sunday’s hard-fought victory over lowly Alaves which required a rather scrambled strike from Luis Suarez and a set-piece special from Messi.
The addition of Philippe Coutinho midway through the second half added plenty of nice footwork and ball trickery in midfield, and the former Liverpool man also showed some signs of a burgeoning understanding with Messi, but in the big European games that lie ahead over the next few weeks Barca will need to show more precision and creativity around the edge of the box to realise their dreams of another treble.
UMTITI BOSSES IT
The nature of the a cautious and relatively chanceless game was illustrated by the fact that the player whose name was chanted longest and loudest by the Camp Nou faithful was not Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez, but central defender Samuel Umtiti.
The Frenchman, who recently returned to action after six weeks out with a thigh injury, was absolutely immense, treating Valencia forwards Luciano Vietto and Rodrigo with the kind of disdain you might expect to be shown towards 12-year-old schoolboys.
The ease with which Umtiti won the ball and started yet another phase of possession was at times comical, giving the impression that nothing and nobody would ever be able to get past him. At the age of just 24 the former Lyon defender looks set to remain a lynchpin of the Barca team for several years to come, and on current form it’s hard to believe there are many better central defenders anywhere in the world.
Aymeric Laporte on Monday announced he was leaving Athletic Bilbao with Premier League leaders Manchester City primed to break their transfer record to sign the French defender.
Bilbao posted a leaving message from Laporte on their Twitter feed, saying his 65 million euros ($80 million) release clause had been paid.
It means Pep Guardiola’s City are set to surpass the £55 million they paid for Belgium attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne – Laporte’s transfer fee translates as £57 million.
The 23-year-old will also become the second most expensive defender in history behind Virgil Van Dijk, who cost Liverpool £75 million from Southampton earlier this month.
Bilbao said in a statement that Laporte had “completed the requirements for the valid unilateral resolution of his work contract”.
It means he is now free to sign for City.
Laporte thanked Athletic’s fans in his Twitter message but said he was taking on “a new challenge in my professional career”.
— Athletic Club (@Athletic_en) January 29, 2018
“I don’t want this to be a goodbye but rather a see you soon,” he said.
“Here, I’m leaving a unique and different club and I’ll never forget it.”
Born in southwest France, Laporte moved to Bilbao’s youth team in 2010 and made his debut in 2012 under firebrand Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa.
He was once a reported target for Barcelona and City wanted to sign him in the close season but he rejected the move.
His release clause was 50 million euros at the time.
His signing will mean Guardiola has spent more than £200 million simply on reinforcing his defence alongside the acquisitions of Benjamin Mendy (£52m), John Stones (£47.5m) and Kyle Walker (£45m).
A France international at all youth levels, Laporte has been frustrated at continually being overlooked by senior team coach Didier Deschamps.
He has even mooted the possibility of representing Spain but will now be hoping a high-profile move to the Premier League leaders will catch Deschamps’s attention.
Provided by AFP Sport
Alaves coach Abelardo Fernandez bemoaned his side’s luck with referees as they lost to a late Lionel Messi free-kick at the Nou Camp on Sunday.
Messi’s strike completed a turnaround after Luis Suarez had cancelled out John Guidetti’s surprise opener for the visitors in a match that saw Philippe Coutinho make his full Barcelona debut.
The 2-1 win keeps Barca 11 points clear at the top of LaLiga but Alaves felt they should have had a late penalty for a Samuel Umtiti handball.
Alaves’ players were visibly upset at the full-time whistle and Fernandez felt it was an unfortunate moment in the game for the visitors.
According to AS, he said: “I did not see the pass. But they tell me it was a penalty. We are not having any luck with referees, who are human, they can be wrong, but we lack fortune in that aspect.
“We played an outstanding game, we did everything we had prepared, but their individual quality is tremendous.
“The plan was to maintain the system, steal and break the pressure line to get out of space.
“We had a counter with Ibai (Gomez) to make it 2-0, but you must be very successful and have a very high percentage of effectiveness to get something from the Nou Camp.”
Barcelona were not at their fluent best but still managed to find a way to win, maintaining Ernesto Valverde’s unbeaten record in LaLiga since his summer appointment.
The former Athletic Bilbao boss had a different opinion of the late penalty incident.
“I have seen it and I think the hand is (there) involuntary,” he said.
“I have seen that they have protested a lot but I don’t know…I have not asked Umtiti. Unless he had his hand cut off, he could do nothing. Everyone sees it from the point of view of their team.
“It was a complicated game, we started well but we were uphill at 1-0 down. They have played a great game but we continued pushing we got what we wanted.”