Copa del Rey: Enrique leads Barca to 3rd consecutive finals

Copa Del Rey By: Ambrose Udeme | 07/02/2017

Copa del Rey: Barcelona through to third consecutive finals

Barcelona with nine men made it three finals in three Copa del Rey attempts under Luis Enrique on Tuesday despite a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid who were also reduced to ten men at Camp Nou.

Luis Suarez's first half strike handed Barcelona a 3-1 aggregate lead at half time following last week's 2-1 first leg win at the Vincente Calderon stadium but a late rally by the visitors through Kevin Gameiro with Antoine Griezmann providing the assist accounted for a mere consolation as Barcelona won 3-2 on aggregate.

Arda Turan replaced the suspended Neymar for Barcelona against an attack-minded Atletico who were similarly without captain Gabi Fernandez whose place was taken by Yannick Carrasco. Neymar and Gabi both picked up yellow-card bans at the Vicente Calderon last week.

Five other changes for Barca saw first-team trio Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez back in the Catalans' line-up.

Atleti, on the other hand, went with a supercharged 4-4-2 formation with Juanfran Torres returning to right-back, Carrasco in front of him and Nico Gaitan occupying the opposite wing.

Barca went into Tuesday's clash with a 2-1 first leg lead and were looking to make it three straight finals in the Cup game under Luis Enrique.

First Half

Andre Gomes conceded an early free kick only a few yards away from the Barca box, but Nico Gaitan's delivery was interrupted by the referee. Moments after Luis Suarez saw his low drive pushed away by Miguel Moya, Atletico broke away down the middle, found Carrasco on the right who after cutting inside had just Jasper Cillessen to beat, but his curling finish was straight at the goalkeeper.

Diego Simeone committed almost everyone forward as they desperately went in search of an early goal to unsettle Barca whose fans are already making their frustrations heard.

Antoine Griezmann looked to break into the box down the right as space suddenly appeared for the Frenchman, but out of nowhere came Jordi Alba with an important interception.

Messi's free role left Sergi Roberto totally exposed down the right, with the Atletico attackers taking it in turns to raise hell for the full-back who picked up the first yellow of the evening after chopping down Fernando Torres from behind. Messi then tried to do it all on his own in the left-centre area of the final third, but his low shot was easy for Moya.

Torres was clearly held back by Sergi in the box from a free kick after the striker was fouled in the air by Gerard Pique, but the referee waved play on to the dismay of the visitors.

After a relentless opening half-hour from Atletico, Messi and his troops began to show signs of growing into the game as Gomes turned the entire Rojiblancos midfield, before Suarez's layoff for Messi was charged down for a corner.

Messi lost the ball yet again for Barca as the game entered the final five minutes of the first-half but the Catalans had a late shocker as Suarez mopped up the rebound from a spilled Messi shot to break the deadlock for a half time lead.

Second Half

Two early blows for Atleti after the break saw Nico Gaitan and Godin pull up with knocks. They were replaced by Angel Correa and Lucas, who was subjected to boos and insults after his arrest on domestic abuse charges last week.

However, the focus suddenly switched to Sergi, who flew into Filipe Luis’ knee near the left-hand touchline, just before he was due to be replaced by Aleix Vidal, and picked up a second yellow to rule him out of the final.

The atmosphere became even more sour when Griezmann was clearly level with Gerard Pique when he fired a finish into the bottom-right corner of Cillessen’s net, but the linesman disagreed.

Arda’s final involvement before being replaced by Sergio Busquets earlier than planned was to be wiped out by a reckless challenge from Carrasco for his second yellow.

Andres Iniesta’s return was supposed to be a calming influence on proceedings, but it was quickly followed by a crazy, four-minute spell that turned the game on its head.

Moments after Messi’s thunderous free kick clipped the bar, Pique slid through substitute Kevin Gameiro in the box, leaving the referee with no hesitation. The striker, however, blasted the spot-kick into orbit.

Still, he was allowed to make amends when Griezmann pulled the ball back him for a tap-in with six minutes of normal time remaining.

Barca responded through Suarez, who finished with aplomb at the other end, but Messi threaded through his strike partner too late.

The Catalans’ backs were sent back against the walls for the last few minutes as Koke fell very easily under a challenge from Suarez, who saw a second yellow and will miss the final as a result.

Cillessen managed to get a massive touch to pluck a corner out of the air, before no Atleti player could turn in Koke’s tantalising cross at the far post.

Filipe’s deliberate foul from behind on Messi killed the final two of the five minutes signalled for injury time as bad blood erupted between both sets of players and coaches, before Busquets was booked for kicking the ball away.