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Three talking points from Athletic Club 4-2 Barcelona | Copa del Rey



Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images

San Mames witnessed an absolute goal-fest on Wednesday night when Barcelona took on Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey. With a place in the semi-finals at stake, both teams pushed hard for the win but the result in the end was deserved.

Ernesto Valverde’s men got on the front foot for the better part of the game and were exceptional towards the tail end. Their continued persistence helped turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 win, helping them overcome the Catalans in the competition once more.

The game brings massive pressure on Xavi and his players, for the premature exit has several implications for their season ahead. Yet, the game brought to light a combination of both positive and negative takeaways.

Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Athletic Club 4-2 Barcelona.

Yamal’s night of ecstasy and anguish

Lamine Yamal, at just 16 years of age, was one of Barcelona’s most important players on the field at San Mames. His night, however, saw both extremes of emotion from absolute elation to rock-bottom anguish.

The youngster was phenomenal down the Catalans’ right flank, stretching the Athletic Club defence and creating chances for fun. His touch possessed magic, deceiving defenders with ease.

Yamal scored a wonderful solo goal in the first half to give his side the lead. Taking on defenders from outside the area, he fired a low strike past the goalkeeper with clean precision to record an absolute golazo.

Yet, his performance also saw some troughs that may leave scars on his mind.

For starters, he missed a simple finish 65th minute when his lob over the goalkeeper went narrowly wide. His biggest miss on the night, however, arrived in the dying minutes of the game when he won the ball from the Athletic Club defence and set up a 1 vs 1 situation.

Through on goal, he dribbled past the goalkeeper to create an open goal. His shot, however, flew high and failed to hit the back of the target.

A goal at that point would have virtually sealed Barcelona’s qualification to the semifinal, and it would thus be hard for Yamal to leave it behind. Nevertheless, the responsibility he is taking up at a young age is impressive, and the sky is the limit for the academy gem.

Two more academy jewels

Fort impressed vs Athletic. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Wednesday night was all about La Masia for Barcelona. Xavi began the game with Yamal, Alejandro Balde and Inaki Pena as his only academy graduate starters.

As the game progressed, however, he was forced to turn to younger names on the bench and they did not disappoint.

The first name called off the bench was young Hector Fort. The right-back had made his debut for the team against UD Barbastro earlier this year, but the game against Los Leones was his first high-pressure encounter with the first team.

To complicate matters further, he was asked to play at left-back after Balde’s injury, leaving him in an alien position against some of the league’s most lethal wingers.

Despite being thrown into the deep end, the teenager stood his ground. He dished out a performance even a veteran would be proud of as he largely restricted both Nico and Inaki Williams for the better part of the night.

In 97 minutes, he recorded 15 defensive actions, completed 88% of his passes and completed one dribble. He still has a long way to go, but his performance last night was surely the start of something special.

Another young name who featured once more was Pau Cubarsi who replaced Andras Christensen in the second period. The youngster was once again solid with his distribution and defensive awareness at San Mames with maturity beyond his years.

Needless to say, Barcelona will be evergreen as long as La Masia is around.

The start of a trophy-less run?

The Copa del Rey was Barcelona’s most realistic chance of winning silverware this season. With just three teams separating them from the trophy ahead of kickoff, it was not an impossible task.

Now that the team are officially out of the cup, their hopes of lifting any form of silverware this season most likely hit a dead end.

Barcelona are eight points behind Girona in the league standings and seven below Real Madrid, and any chance in the title race depends solely on the form of their opponents.

The only remaining competition is the UEFA Champions League. Given the team’s form, however, the better talked about the European competition, the better it is.

The pressure is on Xavi, and the manager knows that his fate is close to being sealed if he does not turn it around soon. A trophy-less season does not bode well in the Catalan capital after all.

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