Details are sometimes much more than details and the destiny of a project can be a question of millimetres. It’s not worth thinking about what might have happened if Pique’s header had hit the post or Ocampos had scored his penalty. The reality is that the cup comeback can be a turning point for Barcelona. The 3-0 win over Sevilla changes everything, like Rijkaard’s Barca against Sevilla or Luis Enrique’s Barca against Atletico. The squad delivered and came out looking strong, while Ronald Koeman gets the most credit and the chances of him staying another year are rising. More than for the results, for the sensation that the players believe in him.
Barca bounced back at Los Carmenes and completed another epic comeback yesterday. This has more merit. They were facing a Champions League team. They could have scored the second goal far earlier than the did. Mingueza’s penalty was the only ground they conceded. It’s not easy to beat the same side twice in four days and go 210 minutes without conceding.
Koeman was spot on, on Wednesday. With the starting line up, the plan, the tactics and the changes. His team knew they had to set out to intimidate Sevilla and did so with an electric first half. They knew that a Sevilla goal would be check mate, so they prioritised defensive order before a final onslaught for the second.
Koeman was sensible to take off Busquets and a booked Mingueza for Ilaix and Junior Firpo. He wanted to avoid a red for the Barca defender and Ilaix gave the team legs to box to box in the second half. He allowed De Jong to sit deeper and take charge of the defensive tasks.
Many players are in their best form now. Ter Stegen saved the day, Mingueza was imperial, Pique was a Kaiser in the boxes, Busquets was a Swiss watch, Alba didn’t let anyone in behind, Dembele was a headache for Sevilla. Messi, meanwhile, was a captain committed to the cause. He helped out in defence like never before, battled in attack and nearly ate the referee when he blew for a foul. His celebration for the second goal speaks for itself.
The subs deserve special mention. Griezmann was hyperactive, Trincao was fired up, Braithwaite grabbed the vital third and Junior showed total concentration, impressive considering it’s never easy to come on in the final stages of a broken game.
The apathy of recent times has given way to the birth of a new group feeling. New faces and communion between the kids and veterans. Even players who didn’t play, Araujo, Riqui Puig, were ecstatic. Koeman has been able to unlink the dressing room from the institutional problems to form a great family.
Now what? With the cup final in the bag, Barcelona will play with the football, strength and hope needed to pressure Atletico until the end in La Liga. Five points and a game in hand is considerable, but the calendar gives Barca license to dream. With the Madrid derby this weekend, they know they can make La Liga very ‘long’ for the Colchoneros. If they beat Chelsea in the Champions League, longer still.
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