Barcelona dominate Valencia from start to finish in Copa del Rey semifinal
Three things from Barcelona's 7-0 hammering of Valencia in their Copa del Rey semifinal first leg at the Camp Nou.
1. Barca dominate from start to finish
Four goals for Luis Suarez and a Lionel Messi hat trick saw Barcelona all but secure passage to this season's Copa del Rey final, as Gary Neville's visitors were just unable to deal at all with the challenge thrown at them.
Barca had started all three of their most recent games pretty slowly, but within seven minutes, Neymar had teed up Suarez to open the scoring. Five minutes later it was 2-0, with Sergio Busquets' chipped ball behind the defence knocked back by Aleix Vidal, and the Uruguayan hammering in his second of the game.
Already it seemed as though Barca could score as many as they wanted, and Neymar and Messi started pulling out trick after trick. The third was a beauty, as Neymar flicked on Andres Iniesta's pass, Suarez let it run, Messi took a touch and waited and waited and flicked past Los Che goalkeeper Mat Ryan, who was again exposed with a huge hole having been opened up right down the centre of his defence.
Messi hit the crossbar after more great work from Suarez, before Neymar missed a penalty after referee Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva ruled last man Shkodran Mustafi had hauled down Messi inside the box.
The pace dropped after the break, as Barca toyed with the opposition, who were down to 10 men after Mustafi's foul on Messi at the end of the first half. Messi got his second from 15 yards after a lovely Suarez back-flick and the third with a low shot that caught out otherwise-impressive Australia international Ryan at his near post. Suarez wrested control of the match ball though with a late header and then low shot -- to move to 35 goals in just 33 games this season.
Barca are already set for May 21's final [venue to be determined against either Celta Vigo or Sevilla]. There they can become the first back-to-back Copa winners since Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal oversaw Blaugrana victories in 1997 and 1998. On this form you would have to be crazy to bet against them.
2. Neville's plan does not work at all
Former Manchester United defender Neville said on Tuesday that the Camp Nou had brought him "my greatest memory in football" in the 1999 Champions League final. But this night was one of the most painful in his short [and possibly short-lived] spell in charge of Valencia.
Former full-back Neville had also said the aim was to keep the tie alive for the second leg at Mestalla next Wednesday. And that seemed the thinking behind a selection surprise with four full-backs in his XI -- including new signing Guilherme Siqueira ahead of Jose Gaya on the left.
Just seven minutes into this game, that plan was in tatters when midfielder Andre Gomes was caught napping on the ball by Neymar, and seconds later Suarez had scored. Five minutes later and Neville's side's defending was again poor as overlapping right-back Vidal (Siqueira's man) knocked the ball back to the also unmarked Suarez, who doubled the tally.
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The 4-5-1 shape was clearly planned to try to block up the centre of the pitch, keep the game tight and not let Barca get in behind. This plan did not work well at all, and Messi, Neymar and Iniesta were regularly able to pick up the ball in a pocket of space, with supposed "holding midfielders" Danilo Barbosa and Dani Parejo looking on.
Siqueira's debut lasted just 45 minutes, as he was withdrawn so centre-back Ruben Vezo could cover the gap left by Mustafi's sending off. Valencia's other winter window signing, Denis Cheryshev, also entered as a substitute late on, bringing further glee for Camp Nou fans who brought up the Russia international's role in Real Madrid being thrown out of this season's Copa.
As the goals kept coming through the second half, Neville will not have managed a smile. Many Valencia fans recently have been recalling 2008, when their team had a poor league season but beat Barcelona in the semifinals on the way to lifting the Copa del Rey.
The chances of history repeating itself are now pretty much gone -- and Neville himself must really win at Real Betis in La Liga on Sunday or his spell as Valencia's coach could also be over.
3. When Busquets plays well, Barca play well
While Messi and Suarez will take most of the headlines, there was another recital from Sergio Busquets, who completely ran the game from his deep midfield position.
When Busquets has an off day, such as at Malaga recently, the whole of Barca's play can break down. But when he's in this type of form, their attack-heavy system works, and everything just comes much easier to his more-feted superstar teammates. The 27-year-old seemed to be everywhere, doing everything, especially during the first half, when the game was a proper contest.
Off the ball, Busquet's positioning and awareness were excellent as usual, as he swept up across the centre of the pitch, spotting danger before anyone else, dealing with it calmly and ensuring that his team dominated possession.
On the ball the Blaugrana No. 6 was also having a superb game. One superbly flighted pass freed Vidal to set up the second goal. It was also Busquets' perfect long pass that set Messi free in the move that reduced Valencia to 10 men.
There was even almost a rare goal in the second half, when he twice had efforts at the target but first shot over and was later denied by Ryan. That really would have been the icing on the cake, but Busquets (and manager Luis Enrique) will have been very happy anyway with his evening's work.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.