Neymar, Sergio Busquets excel as Barcelona reach Copa del Rey semis
Barcelona booked their ticket for the Copa del Rey semifinals after defeating Athletic Bilbao (3-1) at the Camp Nou, taking their aggregate score to 5-2. Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique and Neymar scored the goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 65 percent of possession, created 18 goalscoring chances and attempted 15 shots, nine of them on target.
The Catalans were clearly inferior in first half. Having learnt their lesson in their previous five meetings this season, Athletic pressed all over the park from the initial whistle and forced the hosts into constant struggle when building from the back. With 32 losses of possession in the first 45 minutes, it would be fair to say that Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had plenty to discuss with his players during the break.
Barca's attitude improved visibly in the second half, with attacking transitions becoming much more frequent and incisive. While the game remained an intense, high-tempo contest, the far more purposeful approach by the Catalans was the decisive factor which unbalanced the game in their favour.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Could do very little to avoid the Basques' early opener. However, the German goalkeeper went on to deliver a solid performance between the posts, responding confidently to the mere two shots the visitors managed in the remainder of the game.
DF Dani Alves, 6 -- Despite giving away too many cheap balls when in possession, the Brazilian right-back remained focused defensively and was easily the most reliable member of the Catalans' back-line. Provided Pique with a perfectly curled cross for his team's second.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 4 -- Although he did contribute with five interceptions, the Belgian was not as authoritative and effective as should be expected of a player of his caliber and experience. Another missed chance to impress.
DF Gerard Pique, 5 -- Allowed Aritz Aduriz far too much time and space to decide his next move, which caused endless, unnecessary trouble for the Blaugrana back-line. Redeemed himself late in the game, however, as his confident header resulted in the hosts' decisive second goal.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 3 -- Trusted ahead of Jordi Alba at left-back. Should have done better to impede Inaki Williams' free run towards goal which resulted in the visitors' opener. Erratic defensively and uncomfortable on the ball, this was a performance to forget.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
MF Javier Mascherano, 5 -- Despite playing in his preferred position at the heart of midfield, he failed to give his team the balance they needed.
MF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Provided a sensational pass to Lionel Messi, who then assisted Suarez for the much-needed equaliser. Most of the Blaugrana's attacks passed through him, which proves his growing importance within the team.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- The most effective midfielder on the park, the Croatian international contributed well at both ends of the pitch. Could have scored late in the second half, but his superb strike was deflected and frustratingly zoomed over the bar.
FW Neymar, 9 -- Rivals could simply not keep up with him and caused the visitors' back-line all sorts of trouble with his dynamic passing and constant mobility. The Brazilian was the target of countless aggressive tackles once again, which is no longer a surprise given the treatment received from Los Leones in previous meetings. Got the goal he was so desperately craving in added time after blasting the ball past Athletic goalkeeper Iago Herrerin and into the top corner.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- After a quiet first half in which he was unable to get as involved as he would have hoped for, the Uruguayan star converted his best chance of the game when the hosts needed it the most. Battled constantly to create spaces for both himself and others.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Opened countless attacking channels for his teammates with his vision and generous passing, as proved by his crucial assist for the Catalans' first. However, it would be fair to say the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was not as effective or involved as Cules have come to expect in the last decade.
MF Sergio Busquets, 8 -- Substituted Vermaelen after 69 minutes. The Catalan took control of midfield with his usual calm, composed approach and almost single-handedly changed the direction of the game. The indispensable leader the team had been missing.