After over 700 days, Football Club Barcelona have finally won their first trophy, and it has come in the form of a most welcome Copa del Rey. What used to be a trophy that would be taken for granted by the fanbase is now the most refreshing tonic to a terrible decline that had not stopped since 2015. However, with Joan Laporta as the new incumbent president, and the ushering of a new generation into the squad, the 20/21 season has taken a bright turn towards hope.
The movement on the field feels far more dynamic, and with young and energetic players all over the field, Barça finally seem to have a spring in their step again. Yesterday night was a wonderful showing of peak positional play football, and the Blaugranas did it on the stage of a final, against a very tough rival.
Each player fulfilled their role to perfection, adding distinct elements that allowed Barça to dominate the game. On the night, nearly every player excelled, with the team’s unmatched control over the ninety being key to their four-goal onslaught in the second half. In this article, we will rate the performances of each of Barça’s players on the night, with a brief explanation on the same.
(GK) Marc-André ter Stegen: 7/10
The German keeper was left fairly untested on the night, as the Basque club were unable to generate any threatening counter-attacks. Iñaki Williams was rendered ineffective on the night; therefore,
Bilbao’s main threat was unable to trouble ter Stegen. Additionally, the 28-year-old managed to effectively distribute the ball, showing a sublime calmness on the ball. Without his skill to play out of the back under pressure, Barça would falter in their buildup play tremendously.
(RCB) Óscar Mingueza: 8/10
It seems like the 21-year-old defender’s career trajectory is constantly moving upwards. Not only has he enjoyed a surprisingly wonderful first campaign with the Barça senior team, but the Spaniard is constantly striving to improve with every passing match.
Mingueza has filled a variety of different roles in the backline, while also showing the ability to maraud up front and carry the ball, or even play on the overlap. On the night, Mingueza was given the nod ahead of fellow defenders Ronald Araujo and Samuel Umtiti, and he repaid Koeman’s faith in him tenfold.
The Spanish defender enjoyed a fantastic night, keeping things tidy at the back while also moving upwards to occupy central zones and link up with Dest. Additionally, when the American fullback opted to move inwards, Mingueza made runs down the right flank to provide an extra attacking lane.
The youngster is truly versatile, and can add value to any squad. He also displayed some neat passing on the night, helping out greatly in Barça’s buildup play. A solid night for the young lad.
(CB) Gerard Piqué: 8/10
Having infiltrated his knee after repeated injuries this season, fans were not too keen when the lineup included Piqué. However, what several fans may have forgotten was the experience and leadership the Spanish defender brings to the backline.
With a nearly flawless return to action, Culés can be reassured that the Catalans have a variety of great options in central defence for the returning eight games of the season.
Piqué executed his job on the night to perfection. With his great passing skill, he was key in the team’s buildup play, showing calmness to pick the right pass while never unnecessarily clearing the ball.
Additionally, the 34-year-old successfully managed to keep Iñaki Williams silent on the night, who was without doubt Bilbao’s biggest potential threat. The veteran defender put in a great shift at the back, and a satisfactory return to action.
(LCB) Clément Lenglet: 7/10
What was shaping up to be a dismal season for the French defender has taken a pleasant turn for the better in the nine games. Lenglet has been putting up reliable performances for a while now, after having committed a poor blunder against Cadiz in February.
Defensively, the Frenchman was fairly untroubled on the night, with most – if any – of Bilbao’s attacking threat coming down the other flank through Williams. However, the 25-year-old showed his comfort in playing the ball on the big stage, having registered 102 passes with an accuracy of 95.3%.
With a system such as Barça’s, it is absolutely key that the central defenders are capable passers, and Lenglet is among the best in the roster when it comes to this trait. Luckily, he has also been improving ever since a torrid first few months in the campaign, and has once again shown why the club put their faith in him. We hope he can continue to play at this level.
(RWB) Sergiño Dest: 6.5/10
Dest enjoyed a fairly silent night, but put up a better performance than he had been recently. The Dutch-born American enjoyed a fairly decent night, displaying nifty short passing skill. He was often caught exchanging quick passes with Mingueza or de Jong, both of whom would take turns overlapping the American when he would choose to come inwards.
The 20-year-old created 1 big chance, 1 key pass, and also executed 47 passes with an impressive 92.2% passing accuracy. He is growing more and more into the game, and will continue adapting into the club with game time.
(RCM) Frenkie de Jong: 9.5/10
The Dutch midfielder was immaculate in every aspect of the game tonight, having enjoyed one of his best games in a Blaugrana shirt. He put up an immense performance, seemingly covering every inch of the pitch. His versatility is unmatched, and he is capable of playing several different roles throughout the field.
This is by virtue of his skillset; the Dutchman is an immense passer of the ball, he can play under any amount of pressure, he is very capable defensively, and he can carry the ball upfield better than any player in the squad, save for Messi.
On the night the 23-year-old was a footballing virtuoso. De Jong was well and truly unleashed, having been given the attacking freedom he yearned for after playing several games as a centre-back. Interestingly, de Jong overlapped Dest several times on the night, doing a great job finding spaces on the right flank.
This was a smart tactical tweak by Koeman, as Dest often finds himself isolated and without time on his own flank. Owing to de Jong’s versatility, the American enjoyed a great game as his position was covered at all times by the Dutch midfielder. The former Ajax player managed to create superiorities on the right flank wonderfully, combining with Dest as well as Mingueza in outplaying Bilbao’s press.
Additionally, the young midfielder linked up wonderfully with all his teammates, registering a 95.7% passing accuracy on the night. He also managed to execute 3 key passes, showing his great involvement in the team’s attacking play.
De Jong’s output was beyond fruitful on the night, scoring one and assisting two. In the first goal, Messi found de Jong overlapping Dest on the right flank. After receiving the ball, the Dutchman put in a peach of a pass into the centre, which Griezmann snatched up nicely.
For the second goal, de Jong was involved in a wonderful move on the right side of the pitch, winning the ball amidst four Athletic players. In addition, he performed a marauding run down that flank once again, even taking the ball around an opposition defender’s blindside. Once the ball circulated into the side of the pitch. Alba dinked in a peach of the cross into the centre, and the Dutch midfielder headed it into the net with perfection.
The third goal came courtesy of a wonderful link-up between de Jong and Messi, with the latter running with the ball down the flank before playing a one-two with the Dutchman twice. De Jong spotted a wonderful pass into the 18-yard-box, allowing Messi to do his thing to perfection.
The midfielder enjoyed one of his best nights in a Barça shirt, proving in every which way that he is worth each penny of the €75m that the club dished out for his transfer. The youngster is a phenom, and is sure to be a mainstay for several years to come, if he continues putting in performances such as these.
(CDM) Sergio Busquets: 8/10
Busquets’ resurgence this season has been magnificent. The Spanish veteran had suffered a torrid start to the season, failing to adapt to Koeman’s demands for a more dynamic side with quicker transitions. However, ever since the Dutch coach returned to the club’s roots with the 4-3-3, and later with the 3-5-2, Busquets has excelled in every aspect of the game.
Once again, the 32-year-old’s contributions go relatively unnoticed, as his flashier and more rapid midfield colleagues get the credit from the fanbase. However, the structure of the team fails entirely when Busquets is not at the core of the midfield. He had a wonderful showing on the night, keeping the play ticking to perfection while also being an impossible puzzle defensively.
The Spaniard kept the game flowing very nicely, registering a 95% passing accuracy, 111 touches, and 10 successful long balls. He even had a wonderful moment in the game, when his dinked pass fled the entire Bilbao defence and reached Messi’s feet. Additionally, each time Barça lost the ball in the attacking third, it was Busquets who ran the cleanup crew, executing three tackles and two interceptions.
Without the veteran midfielder’s quick mind and agile one-touch play, the midfield of Barca would not be close to how efficient and effective they usually are in maintaining possession. It was another wonderful night for the World Cup winner, who seems to be on a mission to prove all the doubters wrong throughout the course of this year.
(LCM) Pedri: 7.5/10
The young Canary Islander seems to not put a foot wrong in any minute of any match these days. His dynamic movement, intelligent positioning, nifty footwork, and rapid linkup play always positions him one step ahead of his opposition.
The 18-year-old never feels the need to rely on physical attributes to outdo his opponents; rather, he manages to think one step ahead of other players, always changing and moving the pace of the game according to his will.
The intelligence and maturity on display at his age is truly astonishing. Pedri manages to be greatly involved in direct threat while also being a key piece of the Blaugrana midfield in keeping the play ticking and moving the ball where there is space and in the most efficient manner possible.
To have started a Copa del Rey final in his first season at Barça in itself is a great achievement. In addition, having done so at age 18 and actually winning the trophy is truly jaw dropping. The youngster was flawless on the night, keeping the play ticking wonderfully.
Each time Pedri found the ball, he either moved it on with immense efficiency or created the much-needed space for his teammates to progress forward. The future is bright for this one.
(LWB) Jordi Alba: 8.5
Coming into the game, there were several doubts among the fanbase as to whether the Spanish fullback should get the start. Anxious tensions were rising, as he had a fairly poor showing in the El Classico, apart from registering an assist. Additionally, there were beliefs that Alba crumbles in big moments, and he would be unable to cope with the pressure of a final.
However, he has once again silenced the doubts, putting in a peach of a performance on the night. It goes without saying that the Spaniard is immense in his linkup play with his teammates, having now spent 8 and a half seasons at the club. With 114 touches, Alba is always an available option on the left flank in creating triangles and outplaying the opposition press.
He also registered two assists on the night, showing once again how complete his attacking output is. The first assist came from a mouth watering dink over the Bilbao defenders, and into de Jong’s path who finished from the header. The second assist came from a classic cutback into Messi’s path, who finished the shot into the bottom left corner.
Additionally, Alba managed to celebrate the game in full swagger, having been seen holding no emotions back in the team bus, as per Riqui Puig’s Instagram story.
(RS) Lionel Messi: 9.5/10
Over the years, enough words have been said about the qualities that make Messi the greatest player of all time. And yet, he constantly manages to defy expectations, putting in performances of sheer brilliance almost every match day.
On the night, Messi had an unparalleled performance, even scoring one of the best goals of the season.
In a passage of incredible linkup play with de Jong, Messi carried ball forward through the path of three Bilbao players (in a similar fashion to his legendary 2015 cup final goal). He then played two neat one two’s with de Jong, who returned the ball to the Argentine maestro in the eighteen-yard box. He then cut across one more defender, before quite literally passing the ball into the far post. A true piece of magic.
His second goal came from an Alba cutback, tucking away a neat finish into the bottom left corner.
In addition, Messi’s playmaking was on point, executing two gorgeous dinks over the Bilbao defence; the first into Griezmann and the second into Braithwaite. Unfortunately, neither of them managed to finish their chances. The Argentinian continues to defy standards every game, even the ones which expect the very best from him.
(LS) Antoine Griezmann: 7.5/10
Griezmann enjoyed an encouraging display on the night. He had been benched for the EL Classico in favour of Dembélé, who had failed to deliver in the fixture. Thus, Koeman give the 30-year-old the start in the left-forward position, and he paid his manager the dividends.
Apart from registering two key passes, the Frenchman also had two shots on target, converting one of them neatly from a de Jong cross into the box. Griezmann’s goal gave Barça their first edge over Athletic.
The former Atletico Madrid player had even managed to score a second goal, cutting past the keeper in wonderful fashion and finishing into an empty net; unfortunately, the goal was ruled offside by a razor-thin margin.
Nonetheless, the Frenchman had a great performance, and he can go into the next match with his head held up high, having won his first-ever major domestic trophy.
Martin Braithwaite (5/10); Ilaix Moriba (6/10); Sergi Roberto (6/10); Ronald Araujo (6/10); Ousmane Dembélé (6/10).