By Andreas Vou ( @AndreasVou89 )
Barcelona overcame the challenge of Villarreal to reach their fifth Copa del Rey final in the last seven seasons, with another 1-3 win over the Yellow Submarines thanks to two goals from Neymar and one from Luis Suarez to seal a 2-6 aggregate scoreline.
However, an injury to Sergio Busquets in the first half which forced the Spanish international to be stretchered off the field has caused concern with that all-important meeting with Real Madrid looming.
Villarreal did all they could since the defeat at the Camp Nou to rally their supporters into believing that a comeback was possible. Yet all those hopes were quickly dashed as Barcelona took the lead within three minutes of the encounter.
Lionel Messi demonstrated a typical moment of magic as he cut inside his marker before whipping in a delightfully measured cross towards Neymar, who smartly chipped the on-rushing Sergio Asenjo to give the Catalans a comfortable cushion.
Villarreal, despite their miniscule budget compared to their Catalan counterparts, have been one of the joys of the Spanish season with their fine attacking style winning over the neutrals. This attacking approach is spearheaded by numerous talented young individuals, and they were not about to let their chance of appearing in a final go without a fight.
The likes of Denis Cheryshev and Luciano Vietto began to pressure the Barça defense as they pushed for a goal which would have given them slight hope, and eventually it came. Jaume Costa’s cross found former Barcelona player Jonathan dos Santos unmarked who cushioned the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen just six minutes before the break.
As much of a concern as the goal conceded from Barça’s perspective, if not more so, was the incident which led up to it. Tomas Pina, in challenging for the ball, followed through with his studs on to the ankle of Sergio Busquets which made for some unsettling images. The midfielder was stretchered off ankle appeared to suffer ankle ligament damage.
3 - Luis Suárez has scored in three consecutive games for the first time for Barcelona (four goals). Wild.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 4, 2015
The club announced that tests would be carried out on Thursday in order to determine the full extent of the damage. With El Clasico on 22 March at the Camp Nou, losing an important first team member like Busquets would be a huge blow.
On the bright side for Barcelona, it looks as though another key player has reemerged after bumpy season. Andres Iniesta has been far from his brilliant best this campaign and has not been able to impose himself on matches as he has done over the last several years.
However, his recent masterclass against Manchester City in the first leg of the Champions League last week was a reminder of what he could provide and a similar performance on Wednesday night will have Barça and Luis Enrique hoping that he can maintain these levels in the run-in to the season with all three competitions still very much to play for. Iniesta was immaculate in the middle of the park, almost perfect in his touches, reflected by his 91 per cent pass accuracy which helped to control the midfield battle.
For some, Pina was lucky to avoid disciplinary action for his challenge on Busquets but he would not be spared just after the hour mark. Just moments after a poor tackle on Javier Mascherano, Pina chopped Neymar down from behind and was handed a straight red card which all but ended Villarreal’s hopes.
4 - @FCBarcelona have reached the Copa del Rey final in four of the last five seasons (2015, 2014, 2012 y 2011). Crown.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 4, 2015
Barça typically made use of the man advantage and eight minutes later were 1-2 up. A ball over the top from Mascherano found Suarez who then rounded the keeper and slotted the ball into the empty net. It was a previously unfamiliar approach for Barcelona before Suarez’s arrival but due to the Uruguayan’s pace and perseverance, the long pass between opposition goalkeeper and defense has been an effective new tactic.
After an uneasy start to life in Barcelona, Suarez is currently on red-hot form, having scored six goals and made four assists in last ten games in all competitions. There was also time for another for the away side, as Xavi Hernandez’s cross found Neymar who nodded the ball beyond Asenjo to create a repeat of the first-leg scoreline, and help the Brazilian become the second highest scorer in the competition with six, one behind Sevilla’s Iago Aspas.
It had the potential to be a tricky affair for Barcelona, especially after Villarreal’s display away to Real Madrid over the weekend. Carrying a two-goal advantage from the first-leg would incline most teams to defend their lead but the Catalans attacked with intent from the off and, as a result, became the first side in Copa del Rey history to reach the final winning all eight matches.