Barcelona 4-0 Athletic Club: Match statistics
Joan Laporta’s beaming smile was somehow still visible behind his face mask when Barcelona’s proud new president watched his side win the first trophy of his second reign on a big night for the club in Seville.
Lionel Messi scored twice on goals from Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong when the Catalans led the Athletic Club 4-0 to the 31st Copa del Rey.
But this is the King’s Cup and it belongs to Barcelona again – or, to be more precise, Messi.
The majestic Argentine put in a regal performance, recovering from the disappointing Clasico performance last weekend by becoming the all-time scorer in the Copa final with 10 points when he won the Cup for the seventh time.
However, this was an excellent team effort. Barca didn’t just add one more trophy to their extensive collection. They’re hosting a show of strength that bodes well for the rest of their league title challenge – and beyond.
As Atletico Madrid collapses and Real Madrid have a shrinking squad, Barcelona have shown they are already over their Clasico setback, which could have been a major moral blow and has put the financially troubled club into a spiral.
Under fire Ronald Koeman stuck to his 3-5-2 system and made some brave pick calls that paid off as the Catalans beat their Basque opponents in a similar fashion to their 2015 Cup win against Athletic at Camp Nou.
Gerard Pique came on for Ronald Araujo after Uruguay’s sluggish performance at Real Madrid and the Spaniard stood out despite having only played one game in the past seven weeks.
That was the impressive comeback in the semi-finals against Sevilla, and he was just as impressive here as he held up against Inaki Williams twice in one-on-one situations.
The Athletic striker famously burned past Pique, leaving him to dust off in an inter-team match a little over a year ago, but there was only one winner here.
Griezmann was Koeman’s other gamble, picking the striker ahead of compatriot Ousmane Dembele and it turned out to be a good call despite a major failure by the French striker 0-0.
The former Atletico man got to his feet and managed to break the impasse by turning Frenkie de Jong’s cross home.
Koeman wasn’t the only handsome Dutchman, and Laporta watched.
The coach finally showed that he could lead Barcelona to victory in a big game – and a resounding victory – while the versatile Dutch international De Jong proved that he is one of his preferred midfield roles.
De Jong, who was originally bought to fill Sergio Busquets’ position, has continued to move forward, as he did against Athletic, scooping up one goal and two assists.
In the past few weeks he had been put back on the defensive due to injuries elsewhere, but in the future this should only be an emergency measure. From an offensive point of view, he simply has too much to offer.
After kicking off the opener for Griezmann, De Jong bent down to head home after Jordi Alba’s expertly teased cross before Messi took over.
The attacker’s first goal was reminiscent of his 2015 solo masterpiece against Athletic, only this time he scored a one-two with De Jong.
At 33, Messi can no longer do everything alone and needs teammates on his wavelength. This win was about proving to him that he still has a prominent supporting role in Barcelona. that these colleagues are not only talented, but also mentally strong.
Barcelona have played big games this season and the team’s young players like Oscar Mingueza and Pedri Gonzalez are ahead here. They can become the players Messi needs by his side for the coming seasons.
The gifted no.10 has not yet decided whether his future lies in Barcelona beyond this summer when his contract expires, but this win will have increased the chances of staying.
It was a triumph that suggested something was brewing in Barcelona. They have found each other again, even if they are not yet ready to fight the European elite, as the Champions League round of 16 against Paris Saint-Germain underscores.
However, this was an evening when everything went well for Barcelona, a kind of night where the painful defeats of the past few years somehow melted away and ended with the ribbon of ticker flapping in the sky and Messi holding another trophy in his hand.
No wonder Laporta was grinning from ear to ear under this mask.