The best Barça lifts a Cup to toast for the future (4-0)
Barça end two years without titles with a 4-0 win over Athletic in the Copa del Rey final
Special envoy in SevilleThe journey through the desert is over. After two years of painful defeats, grimaces of disappointment and scandals off the pitch, Lionel Messi was able to lift a title with the Barça crest in his heart. A Copa del Rey that serves as a toast to a future that promises more joy if the exhibition at La Cartuja (4-0), where there was only one team, is the starting point for further growth. If Messi, who scored a wonderful goal just as he had done in the 2015 Camp Nou final against Athletic, decides to stay and continue to accompany the growth of a generation of youngsters who already have their first title. If Frenkie De Jong, who played his best game since arriving in Catalonia, continues to gain in confidence. If youngsters like Mingueza and Pedri realise that winning is addictive. And once you can lift a title, you don't want to stop. And if Griezmann can make his version of the Copa his version of La Liga. Koeman gave him the starting line-up ahead of Dembélé. And the former Atlético player did not fail.
Athletic's resistance lasted 60 minutes. But once Barça's first goal arrived, all the scores came that had not come for a while in a Copa in which they had suffered in all the knockout stages, from Cornellà to Sevilla, with extra time and saving goals. In fact, the most comfortable match ended up being a final in which the superiority was so great that the Basques could have been even worse for wear. Koeman's Barça, on the same stage where they had lost the Supercopa to the same opponents, settled unfinished business and lifted the club's first title in two years, taking heart from the possibility that in a few weeks' time the Liga title could also come their way. Playing the way they did at La Cartuja, few teams can stop them, in fact. If winning a title was important, the way they did it was also valuable. And the staging was impeccable.
Koeman was brave. To banish all the ghosts of the disappointments of the last two years, his Barça came out to bite. Without looking back. Aware that it was about winning the future, rather than crying about all the obstacles the team has encountered in the past. Koeman, who also had to prove to himself that he has the ability to hit the right key when the big games come around, insisted on a system with three centre-backs, reading the play well. He knew that Marcelino would not move from his usual 4-4-2 system. The Asturian coach is more stubborn than the Dutchman, in fact. And he had the doubt of Iker Muniain. In the end, the Navarrese was a starter, but he didn't play a single ball and Marcelino replaced him at half-time, as he was limping.
Koeman, by contrast, had different systems to choose from. And he got it right. The Dutch coach, however, also had one of his heavyweights in doubt after a few days out injured, Piqué. In the end, the centre-back started, winning every direct duel with Iñaki Williams in a first half in which Athletic survived as best they could a Barça display that did everything right except shoot on goal. Koeman's side lacked a good finish to a game in which the ball was always theirs, with De Jong and Pedri always looking at the opposition goal every time they got the ball. The Dutch midfielder, in fact, could have finished the job earlier when, after five minutes, he turned a Messi assist onto the post. But, by inches, he came up just short of the goal. And Athletic survived as best they could, now thanks to a defensive action by Yeray, now thanks to a foul by Dani García, now thanks to the permissiveness of the match's referee, Munuera Martínez, who was having conversations with a Messi unable to understand how some fouls did not end in a yellow. The final had become a one-goal game.
If the first half had been a giant rondo without reaching Unai Simon's gloves, in the second half Koeman's side began to give the Basque goalkeeper a job, who found himself under siege at a time when Athletic recalled the bad memories of the final lost to Real Sociedad 15 days earlier, when they had also collapsed in the first few minutes after the break. And so it was. Well, in fact it was worse. After missing a chance on his own, Griezmann shook off his fears, vindicating himself in a tournament in which the Frenchman has found the smile he has lacked so often during the season. Messi, always clear-sighted, took advantage of another run from an omnipresent De Jong to give Griezmann the chance to score the goal that Koeman's side had long deserved. It was the coup de grace. Athletic, out of sorts physically and morally, became a plaything in the hands of a Barça side who were not satisfied with the win. They wanted to win it the way Barça like it. Playing well, attacking, scoring. Turning football into a spectacle of the kind that is easy on the eyes and pleases the viewer.
The second came from De Jong, who spent the whole game finding holes to get into the box for an opponent who never knew how to spot him. With the gift of being everywhere, the Dutchman made the second and witnessed Messi's two works of art. The first, with hip flicks inside the box. And the second, with a dry shot at the near post that made it 4-0 in a match in which Barça recovered the sensations they had lost in recent years. In fact, Griezmann had the fifth, but missed his second goal by just a few centimetres in a final that serves to close an era, while at the same time opening the door to a new one. Laporta's first title in a season started by the previous president. A Copa that opens the way to a future that no longer seems so dark.