Barça have got their cup title defence off to an impeccable start with a convincing win away to Division 2B outfit Alavés. There were clearly no problems with motivation for this round of 16 visit to Mendizorroza, in which they showed all of their class against a side that had a very definite idea about the kind of tactics they would need to employ in order to deal with the difficult task of taking on the league leaders. But ultimately, Alavés were up against a far superior side, and three tremendous goals from Villa, Iniesta and Cesc have set the Catalans on perfect course for a place in the next round.
Working as hard as ever
With all of Valdés, Alba, Xavi, Pedro and Messi rested, Tito Vilanova still managed to field a highly competitive starting eleven. Pinto, Alves, Mascherano, Bartra, Iniesta, Sergi Roberto (the only member of the B team) and Alexis were all back in the side, while the only players that had featured against Rayo were Montoya (on the left), Busquets, Cesc and Villa.
What ensued was a highly intense game of football between two teams with very clear ideas. Alavés were not afraid to attack, but also retreated into defence when called upon in an impressively organised fashion. Barça, however, were clearly in control of the possession, using the wings more than they usually do, possibly because of the absence of Messi in the middle. Indeed, it was from a run down the right that Alves created the first chance of the night for Alexis, which home keeper Urtzi dealt with expertly in the 13th minute.
Killer blow from Villa
The defending champions pushed and pushed in search of the opener. Without reservations. And they needed to be insistent, because they were up against a side that was belying its lower league status. Although strikers Alexis and Villa were looking incisive, Barça found it difficult to create clear-cut chances, and when they did come, the aforesaid duo were failing to find any magic over the last few metres. But in their second major opportunity, Villa made no mistake. Following a sloppy clearance by the home defence after an Iniesta effort, Villa pounced on the loose ball and sent it homeward with a left footed strike that deflected off the crossbar and over the line. 39 minutes gone, and Barça were ahead thanks to an absolute peach of a goal.
Having conceded the first goal of the night, Alavés were obliged to push up the field with a little more ambition. Naturally, this gave Barça more room for manoeuvre and a crafty interception of the ball as it was moved out of the Basque defence ended with it at the feet of Iniesta. And from the edge of the area, the midfielder sent the ball delicately floating into the back of the net. Fifty minutes gone, and Mendizorroza despaired. Moments later, an Alexis goal was disallowed for inexistent offside. Alavés had been impressively tight at the back up until this point, but after going two goals down their shape was hopelessly lost as they assumed greater and greater risks in the hope of pulling a goal back. The most important thing on their minds was to go to the Camp Nou with at least some hope of turning the tie around.
Cesc makes it three
Tito Vilanova opted to send on Song, Tello and Dos Santos for Busquets, Villa and Iniesta. Pinto was handed the captain’s armband but the FCB stopper was practically one further spectator as the game became a monologue of Barcelona possession and pressure, with the side from Vitoria now merely playing for pride.
Cesc worked, Sergi Roberto directed and Alexis deserved a goal. It could have been a rout if it hadn’t been for some extraordinary saves from the home keeper, but shortly before the final whistle, Fàbregas headed home a pinpoint cross from Alves and Barça were rewarded for never sitting back on the two-goal cushion. They are already on good course in the Champions League and Liga, and tonight have got their Copa del Rey campaign off to an equally impressive start. Barring a miracle comeback from Alavés in the second leg, they are through to the last sixteen.