Valencia left Barcelona’s double dream in tatters at the Benito Villamarin with a stirring 2-1 Copa del Rey final performance in the heat of Seville on Saturday night.
It was no secret in the build-up to the game that they were studying Liverpool’s Anfield demolition of Ernesto Valverde’s side but no-one expected them to produce an equally rousing and ruthless performance.
In the first 45 minutes they nullified Lionel Messi who looked lost in a forest of white shirted defenders without his pal Luis Suarez, watching injured from the stands.
You could have put a blue and white striped shirt on the Barca number 10 such was the ease at which he was being shackled and bypassed by the game.
He recovered in the second half and gave Barcelona hope scoring from close range but they had been given too much to do by first half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrgio. This defeat will surely now speed up the signing of Antoine Griezmann. Messi needs more help than this. Suarez was on the pitch at the end to console him. Barcelona did not have enough in reserve without the Uruguayan.
Valencia could have scored after just five minutes when Clement Lenglet gifted them their first chance. His pass across the face of his own goal ran to Rodrigo who rounded Jasper Cillessen. It was Gerard Pique who rushed back to clear off the line – the warning signs were there but were not heeded.
The opener finally came on 22 minutes when Barcelona were undone by Valencia’s G-Force. Gabriel played a brilliant cross-field pass out to Jose Gaya and when he crossed Gameiro had time and space on the edge of the area. Jordi Alba eventually dived into avert the danger but the French forward spun away from him before burying a shot past Cillessen.
Valencia doubled their lead on 33 minutes and it was Rodrigo who got the goal. The ball was played over the top of Jordi Alba and he was done for pace and power by Carlos Soler. The Spain left back’s nightmare performance against Liverpool still seems to be haunting him. Soler’s cross was so good that Rodrigo just had to get his head to it. His run was perfect and he planted his forehead to make it 2-0.
Barcelona managed a late first-half flurry with shots from Ivan Rakitic and Messi finally giving Jaume Domenech something to do but they deservedly went down the tunnel 2-0 down at the break.
With Malcom and Arturo Vidal on at half-time Messi was reborn in the second half. He sent one free-kick over just over the bar and then hit a post after Malcom and Vidal had combined well.
When Valencia’s brilliant captain Dani Parejo hobbled off midway through the second half there was added hope Barcelona could get back into the game. Philippe Coutinho – who was largely ineffective – managed one testing shot and with Gerard Pique now in permanent centre-forward position Valencia were wobbling.
Messi was darting across to take all the corners but on 73 minutes he left Malcom to whip one in. Lenglet got his head to it and so the number 10 was free to score from the rebound when the ball came back off the post.
The last few minutes were nervous. Marcelino took a huge gamble taking off both his strikers and bringing on defensive players. That would have been a massive problem had the game gone to extra time but it never did.
Valencia held on. They will now have one of the biggest parties the club has seen. Barcelona will need another inquest, and maybe some quick signings to take the sting out of such a disappointing end to the season.