El Centrocampista

HISTORY REPEATING – Dream over for Valencia as Barcelona head for final

Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

The opening minutes of tonights crunch tie at the Camp Nou were deceptive. For a moment, as Valencia battered FC Barcelona from the first whistle, it looked like Los Che might just finally prove their worth and re-establish themselves as one of Spain’s big guns.

Having being dealt a wicked blow prior to the game, with Roberto Soldado forced to withdraw through illness, Valencia initially looked none the worse. Los Che pressed Barcelona hard and dominated posession as a result. Catalan commentators commented that no other team had started so brightly at the Camp Nou in recent memory, a bad omen if ever there was one.

Madrid aside, they were right. What came to pass however was a familiar story of Barcelona in big game encounters: a shaky start followed by a steady swing of power firmly into blaugrana hands. Like Rome, like Wembley and like the last league game at the Bernabéu, Barcelona shook off their poor opening spell thanks to a moment of genius, and then went on to make the game their own.

Games, and particularly big games change in half a second, and prior to Cesc Fabregas latching on to a sublime pass from Lionel Messi, Barcelona looked destined for a cup exit.  It was the first of several moments of genius from Messi, who was brilliant in flashes throughout, but none morseo than in his quarterback-esque long ball over the top of the Valencia defence.

Those who have followed Los Che in recent years will understand exactly why Gregory Van der Wiel is target number one for Spain’s third club. Miguel was caught horribly for pace by mister Fabregas, and the prodigal son dinked the ball into the net with perfect accuracy. First blood Barcelona, and thereafter Valencia struggled to make anything of the match.

On a night where Aritz Aduriz could have staked a claim for more game time in the absence of Roberto Soldado, the Basque instead contributed little other than fouls and not quite moments (the latter being a theme sadly becoming increasingly representative of Valencia’s season).

Even when presented with a golden opportunity after Jose Manue Pinto rushed out of his area, Aduriz opted for the lob rather than the simple pass to Mathieu, who was free to his right.

Javier Mascherano, supported by Eric Abidal, calmly headed the ball out for a corner, and it was yet another miss to add to Aduriz’s tally for the night. A game changing moment of the highest order, and one the visitors could not afford to miss.

Had Soldado been presented with that kind of chance there is only one outcome, and his loss was fatal for Valencia. Tonight done little to hide Valencia’s over-reliance on their star hitman, and some strengthening of their forward line is long overdue if they hope to compete better next year, both in the cup and the league.

Whilst a renewed sense of optimism at the Mestalla will not be dampened much by a cup exit against the best team in the world, if Valencia really want to prove they’re out to run against the big guns, they need another top quality striker to go with a new right fullback.

Valencia’s progression to the final would have been far more exciting for the neutral, but instead we are left with a repeat straight from Pep Guardiola’s first season. The Copa Del Rey was Pep’s first trophy as Barcelona manager, and marked the first reward in an historic treble season for the Catalan club.

Barcelona supporters will hope the club can take this as a sign from above that they can somehow claw back the league and repeat the success of years past. More than blind faith will be needed if they aim to do so however. For Valencia, there’s always next year, and in reality only after a summer free from the burden of selling star players can we truly begin to reassess Unai Emery’s side and their ambitions.

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