Barcelona reached the Copa del Rey final in dramatic fashion after defeating Sevilla 3-0 at the Camp Nou, overturning the two-goal deficit from the first leg.
Ronald Koeman’s men had a tough task on their hands heading into the game, having lost the away leg 2-0 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan courtesy of goals by Jules Kounde and Ivan Rakitic.
It was a near-perfect start for the home side. In the 12th minute, Ousmane Dembele made some space for himself on the edge of the box before curling home a beautiful right-footed strike into the top corner.
That was about it in terms of the first-half action. Barcelona came close to adding a second when Lionel Messi’s cutback was deflected towards goal, only to be brilliantly cleared off the line by Marcos Acuna.
Luuk de Jong came nearest to netting before the break for the visitors, but he was smothered by Marc-Andre ter Stegen when through on goal.
The first opportunity of the second half fell to Jordi Alba, whose near-perfect volley crashed back off the bar from Dembele’s cross.
Shortly afterwards came the pivotal point of the tie. Oscar Mingueza brought down Lucas Ocampos inside the box to give the Andalusians a penalty. This gave the away side a golden opportunity to put the tie beyond Barcelona, with the away goals rule active.
However, it was an opportunity squandered. Ocampos stepped up to take, but his poor effort was kept out by Ter Stegen in goal.
It seemed like Sevilla would hold out for a 2-1 aggregate victory, with La Blaugrana struggling to find a breakthrough. They had a couple of penalty shouts, but these were out of desperation more than anything.
Los Nervionenses went down to ten men during injury time after former Manchester City midfielder Fernando received a second yellow card for a pull on substitute Francisco Trincao.
And then, in the dying seconds of the game, the hosts rescued the tie. Antoine Griezmann picked up the ball out wide, cut onto his stronger left foot, and swung in an excellent cross for Gerard Pique, who planted his header into the bottom corner.
In the fifth minute of extra time, the comeback was complete. Alba’s cross from the left found an unmarked Martin Braithwaite, whose diving header trickled under Tomas Vaclik and across the line.
Koeman’s side could not bag a fourth and suffered a scare when VAR checked a possible handball against Clement Lenglet. However, no penalty was given, and they held out to reach the final.
Barcelona will face Levante or Athletic Bilbao in the final on April 17th.
Another unconvincing Copa del Rey victory
Ultimately, all that matters is that Barcelona are in the final of the Copa del Rey. This will come as a huge relief to Koeman and his side, especially given the underwhelming season they’ve had.
However, it’s been far from a joyride.
The Catalan giants needed extra time to defeat third-tier Cornella and narrowly defeated Segunda Division team Rayo Vallecano having trailed in the round of 16. This was followed by a breathless quarter-final with Granada, where they were just seconds from being eliminated.
Once again, they came within a whisker of being knocked out, thankful for the heroics of Pique and Ter Stegen.
If it leads to them lifting the trophy, then Barcelona fans likely won’t care. However, they would have surely preferred something a little bit more convincing.
Koeman’s 3-5-2 – the way forward?
Barcelona have played 4-3-3 since the dawn of time. Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique – they all achieved incredible things using the 4-3-3 formation.
The formation has not yielded such success in recent years, and Koeman has decided that it’s time for a change.
The Dutchman started last weekend’s league match against Sevilla with a 3-5-2, with Pique, Lenglet and Mingueza making up a back three, Alba and Sergino Dest as wing-backs, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri in central midfield, and Messi and Dembele up front.
And it worked – Barcelona came away with all three points thanks to goals from Dembele and Messi.
The last week has provided evidence that a culture shift could be the right move for the La Liga side. Ditching the fabled 4-3-3 for Koeman’s 3-5-2 may be the way forward.
Dembele scores a beauty to give Barcelona the lead
Honestly, WHAT A HIT. It looked like there was nothing on… Sevilla players all around him… and Dembélé just smacks it in the top corner without even breaking sweat 🔥
— TalkFCB © (@talkfcb_) March 3, 2021
Ousmane Dembélé has scored in back-to-back games for Barcelona for the first time this season.
Both goals have come against Sevilla. pic.twitter.com/Xxt887py4D
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 3, 2021
⚠️ | QUICK STAT
Ousmane Dembélé has now scored the opener against Sevilla for the second time in a week – his 4 career goals against them is now the most he's scored against a single club.
— Sofascore (@SofascoreINT) March 3, 2021
Ter Stegen saves Ocampos’ penalty to keep Barcelona alive
Poor penalty kick from Ocampos.
— Edwin 🌧 (@Edwyeen) March 3, 2021
Let's not forget about Marc-André Ter Stegen's penalty save that led to this historical night. Absolute wall. pic.twitter.com/VOe6RHShOJ
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 3, 2021
TER STEGEN APPRECIATION TWEET, HE BROUGHT US BACK FOR THE DEPTHS OF HADES 🙌 pic.twitter.com/qXUNPuajrE
— Heisjustin is a World champion 🇦🇷 (@Uzomajustin2) March 3, 2021
Pique equalises right at the death
Man of the match PIQUE !!!! @FCBarcelona
— ✰ 🌑🌕 ✰ (@TheonlyArantxa) March 3, 2021
— Giridhara Raam 🇦🇷 (@GiridharaRaam) March 3, 2021
Football is about respect. 𝘉𝘰𝘯𝘢 𝘯𝘪𝘵. https://t.co/TW5WFgkjle
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 3, 2021
Braithwaite heads home the winning goal
⚠️ | QUICK STAT
This was Martin Braithwaite's 8th career goal for Barcelona, but just the second he scored at Camp Nou – his only other home goal for the Catalan side came on 29 November 2020, in a 4:0 win against Osasuna.
— Sofascore (@SofascoreINT) March 3, 2021
The win comes as a convenient distraction to all the off-pitch turmoil at the Camp Nou, amplified by the arrest of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu.