Lionel Messi penalty miss underlines off night for Barcelona
BARCELONA -- Lionel Messi missed a second-half penalty as Barcelona's 29-game unbeaten streak was ended by rivals Espanyol 1-0 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Substitute Oscar Melendo scored the only goal of the game, firing past Jasper Cillessen in the 87th minute to give Quique Sanchez Flores' side the advantage going into next week's quarterfinal second leg at Camp Nou.
There were few real pluses for Barcelona on a cold, damp night on the outskirts of the Catalan city. If we're clutching at straws, youngster Carles Alena should benefit from being involved in such a fiery game, while Rafinha made his first appearance in nine months after recovering from a meniscus injury.
Once again, there were too many passengers. Denis Suarez and Aleix Vidal, in particular, were unable to step up after being included in a heavily rotated side. Messi's penalty record (21 missed out of 86 taken) remains a rare blemish on his career as well.
It was a defeat that brought Barca's long, 29-game run without defeat to an end, too. Ernesto Valverde's side had not been beaten since they lost to Real Madrid in the Super Cup in August, and it will hurt to have seen that record disappear against Espanyol.
Manager rating (out of 10)
6 -- The truth is, Valverde might not be too disappointed by the scoreline. He will be upset to see the unbeaten record go, but given the performances of some of his players, he will be upbeat at still being in the tie. His hands were tied in many ways, with so many players absent: Javier Mascherano, Samuel Umtiti, Yerry Mina, Andres Iniesta, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Paco Alcacer.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 6 -- Could do little about Espanyol's well-worked goal. Had previously made one good save from a free kick and, as ever, looked to get attacks started quickly with his feet.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Won the penalty that Messi missed and contributed well in attack. One of his side's better players.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Had little to do in the first half against an Espanyol side set up to keep the game tight. Tried to drive Barca forward as they looked for the opening goal after the break.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 7 -- Continued his good form with another solid performance, producing a number of intelligent blocks and challenges when Espanyol countered.
DF Lucas Digne, 6 -- Given Jordi Alba's stunning performances this season, there is so much onus on Digne to do more in attack. Was unable to do so here and was one of a few players who will feel they could have done better in the buildup to the goal.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Produced some outrageous twists and turns on the ball, keeping possession and drawing gasps from even the home supporters. Was lacking creativity around him, though, with Iniesta and Coutinho both out.
MF Carles Alena, 6 -- A bold call from Valverde to include the young midfielder, who didn't shy away from the occasion. Can consider himself unlucky to have been taken off so early in the second period.
MF Paulinho, 6 -- Not his finest performance for Barca, but you get the impression he'd have been dangerous as the game progressed and opened up later on. Unfortunately, he had been taken off with an injury by then and left Estadi Cornella-El Prat with a slight limp.
MF Denis Suarez 5 -- A frustrating night for the midfielder, who missed Barca's best chance in the first half, dragging wide from 6 yards. Another missed opportunity to impress in a big game.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Even Messi can have an off-night, it seems. Dropped deep and looked to create openings, but without the rested Alba and Luis Suarez, he didn't have his usual accomplices, and it told at times, as he looked longingly for Alba to appear, gallivanting down the left. Missed the chance to give Barca the lead, with Diego Lopez making a brilliant save from his penalty.
FW Aleix Vidal, 5 -- Like Denis Suarez, failed to take his chance. Questions will now be asked about his future at Barca, with a number of clubs interested in signing him this month.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- One of the players guilty of switching off in the moments before Espanyol's winner.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Unable to affect the game in the way Valverde would have liked. Didn't even have a shot on target.
NR Rafinha, 6 -- Came on as a second-half substitute, making his first appearance in nine months after a meniscus problem.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.