Barcelona cruise in Copa del Rey final as Andres Iniesta puts on farewell show
MADRID -- Three thoughts from the Wanda Metropolitano on Barcelona's 5-0 win over Sevilla in the final of the Copa del Rey.
1. Barca steamroll Sevilla to win fourth consecutive Copa in style
Barcelona's old guard turned on the style with Luis Suarez (two goals), Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta all on the scoresheet, as Sevilla were swept away 5-0 in Saturday evening's 2018 Copa del Rey final.
Barca's 30th Copa del Rey win -- and their fourth consecutive victory in the decider -- was among the most dominant final performances you will see anywhere. It also means a domestic double is almost certain, given Ernesto Valverde's side are 12 points clear in La Liga with just five games left to play.
There was never really any doubt at the Wanda Metropolitano, as once the annual whistling of the Spanish anthem and king by Barca's fans was over, the Catalan side began a complete domination that never let up over the 90 minutes.
Sevilla had barely strung two passes together when in the 12th minute Barca keeper Jasper Cillessen took out all 10 outfield opponents with a pinpoint, 80-yard pass over the top. Opposite number David Soria thought of coming for it, then didn't -- a big mistake as Philippe Coutinho controlled the ball just 15 yards out and simply squared it for Suarez to hook in.
The Andalusians finally tried to start to play. Joaquin Correa and Franco Vazquez had decent half-chances, but Barca were just tempting them out and it was soon 2-0. Iniesta freed Jordi Alba around the back of the defence and his back-heeled cross reached Messi, who hammered a 10-yard shot into the net.
There was still time before the break for one of the best team goals of the season. A Barca lightning move started with Samuel Umtiti at the back, went through Iniesta again, before Messi's perfectly cushioned return pass sent Suarez clear to fire in his second.
All that was left really was a goal for Iniesta in what seems likely to be his last final as a Barca player. And early in the second half it came, as Messi set him up to round Soria and knock home calmly from a tight angle.
It was already long over before Coutinho had the ball in the net, but play was called back for a Clement Lenglet handball, with the Brazilian given the responsibility of tucking away the penalty.
It was the biggest winning margin in a Copa final since Madrid played their own Castilla youth side in the 1980 decider. And Barca against Sevilla on Saturday night also looked like two teams from totally different leagues.
2. Barca's trio of 30-somethings turn it on one more time
With much talk recently about how Barcelona need to evolve into the future, this Copa victory was all about their "old guard" of 30-somethings -- as Suarez scored twice, Messi helped himself to another all-time record and Iniesta reminded us of what he still can do.
A Copa final double was nice for Suarez, who was injured in the 2016 decider, then missed last year's victory through suspension. The Uruguayan dominated markers Lenglet (a reported Barca target) and Gabriel Mercado physically and was just too clever to catch. He did not have a good Champions League campaign, but he looked far from a player on the slide here.
What can you add about Messi? His unstoppable finish for the second goal was his 28th goal in a final and 31st goal against Sevilla. It also saw him join Athletic Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra as the only players in history to have scored in five Copa del Rey finals. The Argentine then commenced to just playing as he pleased -- which seemed mostly about providing assists, with both balls played for Suarez and Iniesta being really sweet.
Iniesta was also clearly out to make his mark, amid all the talk over his future. A first-half 20-yard strike that flicked off a defender and thundered back off the woodwork left us wondering, but the moment came when the veteran -- who will be 34 next month -- showed top composure and skill to round Soria and score. It was just his second goal of the season, but it was a nice way to sign off, if China-bound he is.
3. Valverde silences critics, gets this one very right
Even with his team almost certain to be 2017-18 La Liga champions, Valverde went into Saturday's game under pressure for his job following the disastrous shock Champions League exit at Roma earlier this month.
Some around the Camp Nou had started wondering whether the low profile Valverde had what it took on the biggest occasions -- even though they beat Real Madrid 3-0 in December's Clasico and have remained unbeaten in La Liga all season. There also were murmurings when he once again left €105 million record signing Ousmane Dembele on the bench.
Vincenzo Montella's Sevilla had also shown recently -- most prominently against Manchester United in the Champions League -- that they knew how to manage big games. But they were completely blown away here, never even given a chance by a complete tactical performance from Valverde's men. Barca pressed high early to not allow Sevilla to settle at all, then sat back and mercilessly picked off their opponents who had to try and come out.
The demands at Barca are super high, but Saturday's performance showed again that Valverde has got a lot more right than he has got wrong this season. With that being said, he has to be in charge when their Champions League campaign begins again next September.
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