Lionel Messi, Barcelona salvage Copa del Rey from disappointing season
MADRID -- Barcelona ended what has been a rollercoaster of a season on a high on Saturday at the Vicente Calderon, beating Alaves 3-1 to win the Copa del Rey and send Luis Enrique off with a trophy.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring but Alaves responded almost immediately through a stunning free kick from Theo Hernandez. But goals on the cusp of half-time from Neymar and Paco Alcacer moved Barca back into the lead and they held on to win Spain's domestic cup for the 29th time in their history. No other side has won it more.
Apart from adding another trophy to the cabinet, there were a number of reasons for Barca to be cheerful in the Spanish capital. Messi produced another devilishly good performance (especially in the first 45 minutes), Andre Gomes was brilliant as a makeshift right-back and Alcacer crowned a hot and cold season with a goal in the cup final.
But perhaps the warmest moment of the night came when Aleix Vidal replaced Ivan Rakitic inside the final 10 minutes. The right-back dislocated his ankle against Alaves in February and was ruled out for the rest of the season. After making an incredible recovery, though, he defied that initial diagnosis to end the season with an appearance in the Copa del Rey final, which just so happened to be against Alaves as well. On their feet, the moment didn't go unnoticed by Barca's travelling support as they bellowed out his name around Atletico Madrid's soon-to-be defunct stadium.
It's borderline unnecessary to pick negatives after winning a cup, especially when Barca have a lot of reflecting to do this summer after missing out on La Liga and the Champions League. Once again, though, they looked uncertain at the back at times, which is something Ernesto Valverde will have to work on if he succeeds Luis Enrique. That and a few other things. It was also a disappointment to see Javier Mascherano forced off with an injury so early on.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Adios Luis Enrique. It's fitting that he goes out with a trophy, taking his tally to nine out of a possible 13. Not bad for a coach who hasn't satisfied all supporters during his tenure. It was also a nice touch to bring Vidal on for the final 10 minutes.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 6 -- This was his first appearance since Feb. 7 and the rustiness showed. Would have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was beaten at his near post, only for the ball to spin just wide of the other post after hitting his back. Other than that, showed an impressive range of passing -- long and short -- and could do little about Theo's wonderful free kick.
DF Javier Mascherano, NR -- It's been a frustrating end to the season for the Argentine defender. Injured his thigh in the warm up for the Las Palmas game and missed the final two league games. Returned here but was taken off on a stretcher after 10 minutes after a clash of heads with Marcos Llorente. Barca fans will hope the image of him disappearing down the Calderon tunnel is not the last they see of him.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- After missing the last two games with a stomach virus, he returned to take his place in Barca's starting lineup here. Wasn't at his best, perhaps due to a lack of games in recent weeks, but was as commanding as ever. Has become a real leader in the last two seasons.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 7 -- Showed why he's the perfect defender for Barcelona in the lead up to the second goal, intercepting the ball on the left and, despite being under pressure, playing a pass to Neymar when others may have taken the safer option and found touch.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- A performance of highs and lows. Good in attack and headed a fine Messi pass wide just early on, but that often meant he left space behind him in defence. Also had to be bailed out by Cillessen after under-selling a back pass.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Finishes the season with a decent performance after an inconsistent campaign. Showed some lovely touches and passes throughout the game. If he could be criticised for anything, it's perhaps for being too unselfish at times.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 5 -- Once again his best work will go unnoticed as he was asked to protect what was a potentially weak area at right-back. However, wasn't great on the ball and both his efforts on goal were off target.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- Despite playing less this year than he would have liked, he's still an ever-present in the big games. Applied the control to Barcelona's performance in midfield here, linking well with Messi.
FW Lionel Messi, 9 -- Barcelona may be disappointed to end the season having only won the Copa del Rey, but there's a strong claim to make that Messi has been the world's most outstanding player regardless. A one-two with Neymar and a typically sumptuous curled finish opened the scoring, a pinpoint pass for Andre Gomes created the space for Barca's second goal and a dizzying dribble in from the left and pass set up Alcacer to make it three before half-time.
FW Paco Alcacer, 7 -- Had a quiet first half filling in for the suspended (and then injured) Luis Suarez, but has always come alive in the box throughout his career and produced a smart finish when set up Messi in first-half stoppage-time.
FW Neymar, 8 -- Worked hard defensively and was a menace in attack, even if he occasionally met his match when drifting inside against Llorente. Set up Messi's opening goal and was then heavily involved in the move which eventually led to his goal, his 20th in all competitions this season.
DF Andre Gomes, 8 -- For the third game running he was brought on at right-back, this time as early as the tenth minute after Mascherano was forced off. Found space on the right and Messi found him to set up the second goal and then, moments later, went on a run not dissimilar to Sergi Roberto's match winning run against Real Madrid last month (but without the same climax). Full of confidence, he continued to get better as the game went on, with and without the ball.
DF Aleix Vidal, NR -- Would have enjoyed being back out on the pitch, even if it was just for a handful of minutes, after suffering a horrific injury against Alaves three months ago.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.