Lionel Messi orchestrates Barcelona's Copa del Rey title with win over Alaves
MADRID -- Three quick thoughts from Barcelona's 3-1 win over Alaves in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday evening at the Vicente Calderon.
1. Messi guides Barca to Copa victory
Lionel Messi was again the inspiration as Barcelona finished the season by claiming the Copa del Rey trophy with a straightforward-in-the-end 3-1 win over Alaves on Sunday evening at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Messi opened the scoring in trademark fashion on the half-hour mark, and after Theo Hernandez's free-kick missile equaliser, the Argentine laid on two quick goals for Neymar and Paco Alcacer to ensure the Blaugrana side went in at the break 3-1 up.
The second 45 minutes was less eventful, and Barca captain Andres Iniesta received the trophy from Spain's King Felipe at the end of the last game at the Calderon.
Alaves' commitment and organisation in their first Copa del Rey final made it a difficult first 30 minutes for Barca, and Ibai Gomez almost gave the underdogs a shocking lead. But Messi took control, playing a one-two with Neymar before curling a low left footer to the net from the edge of the penalty area.
The Basques came right back and shocked the not-quite-full Calderon by equalising within just three minutes. Theo, Alaves' emerging star left-back, smashed a perfect free kick to the top corner, and suddenly Barca were looking shaky, with goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen particularly uncomfortable.
The Catalan side are used to this situation, though, and quickly hit back themselves. Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti began a move in his own half, Messi took over and freed Andre Gomes inside the box, and his unselfish assist was knocked into the net by Neymar from close range.
Messi was soon involved again, skipping past two challenges as he cut in from the sideline, drawing defenders toward him, and then slipping a pass to Alcacer, who turned and smashed the ball home from 10 yards.
The second half saw Barca mostly dominate possession, and Messi often dropped deep to control the tempo. Alcacer went close again, and Iniesta thumped a shot high from 20 yards. At the other end, Alaves had a late rally, and centre-forward Deyverson scooped the ball past Cillessen, but the offside flag was up.
Messi now has 26 goals and 10 assists in 25 different finals for Barca, 20 of which were victories. The Argentine was unable to pull his team through in the other two major competitions this season, but he was again head and shoulders above everyone Saturday night.
2. Luis Enrique gets (some) consolation in last game
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique's final game ended with another trophy, meaning the team have won nine of 13 competitions entered during his three seasons in charge. This is a fantastic record, but with diminishing returns.
His first campaign brought just the second Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey Treble in Spanish football history; his second season brought a domestic double. This year's Copa trophy will not really be seen as a consolation prize, especially if Real Madrid add the Champions League to their Liga title next weekend.
Saturday's game was not a bad representation of Barca's season. If any player sums up 2016-17, it is Gomes. The much-maligned midfielder was called in early at right-back for a concussed Javier Mascherano. A slip by Gomes almost gave Alaves an opener, but then the former Valencia player gave Neymar a tap-in for a 2-1 lead. Gomes' performance was a mixed bag.
Barca in general had some moments of sparkling football, mixed with some dodgy moments at the back, and a continuing reliance on Messi to make sure they came through. It remains to be seen how history will judge Enrique's three years at the Camp Nou, and his strained relationship with the local pundits counts against him. His trophy record comes close to that of his former teammate, Pep Guardiola, but the Asturian has not left anything like the same legacy behind.
This victory also sets things up quite nicely for presumed new Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, whose first test will be two Clasicos against Real Madrid in August's Super Copa doubleheader. It will be interesting to see what he does with a squad that has stalled in Enrique's last season.
3. Theo gives Alaves something to remember
Los Glorioso supporters provided most of the colour during the day in the capital, and Alaves' 25,000-strong support left with the memory of a battling performance capped with Theo's fantastic free-kick equaliser. The on-loan-from-Atletico Madrid left-back curled an unstoppable free kick to the net right in front of the majority of his team's fans, a goal to grace any final.
The Marseille-born starlet could have been at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea this month, but decided to stay behind and help Alaves for one last game. He looks almost sure to join Real Madrid in a €30 million deal in the coming weeks, and many of his teammates on Saturday will also be elsewhere next season, for sure.
There were few of Theo's usual swashbuckling raids forward in open play, as he concentrated on his role as one of coach Mauricio Pellegrino's five-man back line, even with his team behind in the second half. When he did seem about to start his first real gallop of the game, Messi came across to nick the ball off Theo's toe and tidy up.
The blue-and-white faithful kept singing and chanting and drumming all through. This has been a fantastic 2016-17 season for them, and there was no shame at all in being outclassed by Messi & Co.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan