When Lionel Messi leading from the front with his blistering form, there is only one result expected. That’s what happened last night. Barcelona demolished Espanyol 4-1, in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round-of-16 clash played at Camp Nou.
Messi scored twice along with setting up Barcelona’s other two goals in an outstanding performance.
Espanyol, however, had taken an unexpected lead through Felipe Caicedo after just nine minutes, but things didn’t go in their favour since then.
Messi eventually bagged a first-half brace, the second one being a sensational long-range free-kick, before Gerard Pique including his name in the scoresheet to make it 3-1 just four minutes after the break.
The visitors in an ill-tempered second half had Hernan Perez and Pape Diop sent off over the spell of four minutes, leaving them to fight till the end with nine men.
It looked like They will hold it to a two-goal deficit but in the 88th minute, Messi’s extraordinary chipped pass gave Neymar a chance to volley in a fourth strike for the Blaugrana, giving them a healthy lead to take into the second leg.
Here in this article, we tried to pick out the winners and losers from an eventful Catalan Derby.
Winner: Lionel Messi
Messi was certainly at his brilliant best for Barcelona against Espanyol who managed to restrict him in their last La Liga outing.
His first goal was just a result of a flowing move, as he clinically swept his shot beyond Pau Lopez in the visitor’s goal.
However, his second one was nothing but a moment of individual brilliance. From almost 30 yards out, the Argentine maestro curled a superb free-kick over the wall into the net through the underside of the crossbar. He even scored more direct free-kicks (4) than anyone in La Liga this season (all competitions). Despite missing his hat-trick, Messi did set up goals for team-mates Pique and Neymar with brilliant passes after the break.
Despite an outstanding start grabbing the lead just after 9 minutes, Espanyol had to endure a nightmare finish at Camp Nou.
Having held their city rivals to a goalless stalemate at home in the league outing last weekend, the second meeting inside a week seemed to give a slight advantage to Constantin Galca’s men especially when Caicedo struck early on.
Barcelona managed to hit back, and they hit back strongly but even 3-1 behind, the mighty visitors were still looked alive in the last-16 clash with 20 minutes remaining in the first leg.
However, Espanyol suffered a huge blow in the final quarter of what was a fiery Catalan derby.
Perez and Diop were both given marching orders as they picked up second yellow cards of the match, and the deficit grew even bigger in the closing minutes at Camp Nou when Neymar out of nowhere volleyed in a sensational fourth goal for Barcelona.
Winners: Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal
Both of them finally had the chance to make their much awaited Barcelona debuts in the entertaining ill-tempered Copa del Rey clash which saw 11 yellow cards and 2 red cards.
Turan and Vidal joined Barcelona back in summer but Barca wasn’t able to register them until this month because of their transfer ban imposed by FIFA.
Former Atletico star Arda Turan was picked by manager Luis Enrique in his starting eleven and it was Turan’s master-class that he quickly developed a good understanding with his new team-mates. According to OptaCan, ten of Arda Turan’s 14 successful passes and crosses in the first half against Espanyol found either Lionel Messi (six) or Dani Alves (four). The Turkish midfielder however was substituted after 62 minutes, at the same time another Barca debutant Vidal was introduced replacing a flop Dani Alves.
Yesterday’s match proved the availability of both Turan and Vidal now adds extra depth to Barcelona for a somewhat hectic second-half of the campaign.
Loser: Dani Alves
Dani Alves was fully responsible for allowing Espanyol to take a surprising lead only after nine minutes last night. The veteran defender carelessly lost the ball inside the visiting team’s half that started a breakaway move resulting in Caicedo’s shock goal to break the deadlock.
Marco Asensio quickly grabbed the opportunity to carry the ball into the space left by Alves before sliding a perfectly timed pass to Caicedo, who make to mistake to steer his shot past Barcelona’s second choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
Winner: Andres Iniesta
Messi was certainly the headline act for the Barcelona victory, but we cannot completely overlook Andres Iniesta’s performance.
The in-form midfielder split open the defence of Espanyol quite extra-ordinarily to set up the home team’s equaliser in the 12th minute; his million dollar pass left Messi with only goalkeeper Lopez to beat and the Argentine did it calmly.
The Messi – Iniesta pair yet again combined with a fine corner after the break to create Pique’s goal.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique was full of praise for his captain after the match as he claimed: “Iniesta has unique peripheral vision. He is a magical player”
Loser: Luis Suarez
While Messi and Neymar both managed to find the net, the third member of Barcelona’s lethal attacking line had to endure a frustrating night in front of goal.
The former Liverpool striker just managed to pick up a yellow card in the Copa del Rey clash.
For the second successive match, Suarez drew a blank against Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol, but that doesn’t mean lack of trying. However, his best opportunity of the night arrived in the final minute of the match. A Neymar chipped pass over the top found Lionel Messi, who in turn volleyed across the goal to Suarez. But it was surprising to see, from a close range the Uruguay striker was only managed to turn his attempt onto the roof of the net. It was that kind of night for the Latin American star, though at least his high-profile friends had better luck to find the net.