Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi lead Barcelona in humiliation of Valencia
Barcelona gave no quarter to Valencia in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal at the Camp Nou, taking advantage of a passive display from Gary Neville's side to ruthlessly hammer them 7-0. There were eye-catching performances all over the pitch from the Catalans.
Lionel Messi reduced Los Che to 10 men, won a penalty and scored a hat trick in another one of his great individual showings, but the Argentinean's escapades up front were rivaled by one of his forward teammates. That man was Luis Suarez, who scored four goals, played a key part in the build-up to two more, and was consistently selfless in creating chance after chance for his companions. He now has 35 strikes in 33 games for Barca this season.
Just as impressive was Sergio Busquets, who was perfect in his decision making over the course of 90 minutes. Carrying out a midfield masterclass, the pivot repeatedly split Valencia in half with his passing, and when asked to win the ball his timing was also impeccable.
Other honourable mentions go to Andres Iniesta, who was constantly involved in attacks during his 45 minutes on the pitch, and Jeremy Mathieu, who was authoritative any time Valencia tried to break.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 7 -- The German's rating has to be conditioned by the fact that he was a spectator for most of the night, but he was sharp off his line on the rare occasions he was called into action, and looked a better passer of the ball than most of Valencia's outfield players when asked to build from the back.
DF Aleix Vidal, 8 -- With Neville picking two defenders on each flank, the Catalan needed to get forward as often as possible to help Barca stretch play, and he stuck to his task. Produced a great assist for Suarez's second goal with a lung-bursting run then first-time cut-back from a Busquets chip, and could have bagged another later in the game while he persistently pushed up into the box and fired crosses off for companions.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- With little defending to do, most of the centre-back's work came in an attacking capacity. His eye for a pass from deep helped break opposition lines, as did his willingness to push forward, but for the most part, he could simply sit back and enjoy the show.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 8 -- The Frenchman was required to be more active in defence than Pique, and his pace repeatedly killed Valencia's hopes of launching counter-attacks. While not always the best with the ball at his feet in previous games, he was solid on Thursday, passing sharply out of the back to keep moves flowing at a high tempo. In a moment that summed up how ridiculously dominant Barca were, he even managed to force a save out of Maty Ryan with a volley on the turn.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- A no-nonsense performance from the left-back, who was a constant option for the switch of play on the left, and always seemed to be back to cover at the other end when necessary. Earned an early rest with a little more than 20 minutes left on the clock.
MF Sergio Busquets, 10 -- Any young footballers hoping to play in midfield at the highest level should watch videos of the 27-year-old's game, frame by frame. His perfectly weighted ball left Vidal free behind the Valencia defence to hand Suarez the second goal of the night, and another one from the halfway line allowed Messi to win a penalty. Without possession, meanwhile, he was equally spotless, never giving the away team a sniff. Is there a better midfielder in the world right now?
MF Arda Turan, 7 -- Although probably the least spectacular of Barcelona's three midfielders, the Turk still managed to deliver a more-than-adequate performance, moving intelligently to create passing options for his teammates and trying to do damage with a decent range of passing. Picked up the easiest assist of his career when he was left free to slide a pass through to Suarez in space for the last goal of the night.
MF Andres Iniesta, 9 -- A vintage night from the veteran, who robbed possession from Valencia, used it expertly for Barca, and played one-touch whenever possible. So good that Luis Enrique could afford to take him off for a rest at half-time.
FW Lionel Messi, 10 -- Given space to play in, the No. 10 unsurprisingly tore Valencia apart. Changed the direction of play with accuracy, beat opponents at will and scored three goals for good measure. Each of his strikes had its own particular merit: the feint to open up space in the first was clever, the shuffle to leave two players on the ground for his second was world class, and his hat-trick goal was a reminder of his hunger, with the Argentine winning the ball back in the opposition box before finishing. Not satisfied with all of that, he also won a penalty from Shkodran Mustafi, getting the German sent off for his efforts. Unique.
FW Luis Suarez, 10 -- Messi is rarely outshone, but Suarez was just as good -- if not better. The Uruguayan's first goal came thanks to a trademark run off the shoulder, his second and third demonstrated his excellent timing when arriving into the box, and his fourth was pure power, scored through a thunderous shot off the post. Creatively, he was also excellent, showing great awareness to leave the ball for Messi in the build-up to Barca's third goal, playing a key part in their fourth with a clever flick and delivering ample other chances for his team. Invaluable.
FW Neymar, 9 -- The Brazilian was in the mood throughout, humiliating rivals with tricks and flicks from kickoff and continuing to do so until the final whistle. He forced the opening goal after robbing Andre Gomes then supplying Suarez, while he also took two players out of the game in the move for Messi's first. All that his night lacked was a goal of his own, which was denied by the post from the penalty spot, and a few last-ditch blocks from Valencia defenders in open play.
MF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- The academy product came on for Iniesta at half-time, reiterating his versatility with an energetic performance as an inside midfielder. Drove forward dangerously at opponents on the ball and put them under pressure off it.
DF Marc Bartra, 6 -- Came on for Pique in the 60th minute and had a placid game. Sound with the ball as always.
DF Adriano, 7 -- Replacing Alba in the 69th minute, the Brazilian was the player that launched the counter-attack in the build-up to Messi's hat-trick goal, while he played an even bigger part in Suarez's third, sending a great cross over from the left flank onto the Uruguayan's head.
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter: @LeeRoden89.