Messi stars as Barcelona win Copa del Rey

Lionel Messi scored twice as Athletic Bilbao lost their second Copa del Rey final in a month with Barcelona cruising to a 4-0 win in Seville.

Real Sociedad beat their local rivals 1-0 in the rescheduled 2020 Copa del Rey final on April 3 to get their hands on a major trophy for the first time since 1987.

On that occasion, Sociedad captain Mikel Oyarzabal netted the winner by sending keeper Unai Simon the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute after strike partner Portu was felled in the area by Athletic defender Inigo Martinez.

And further heartache came on Saturday as Ronald Koeman collected his first piece of silverware since taking charge at the Nou Camp last summer.

Lionel Messi looks to find a route past Athletic Bilbao on Saturday
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Messi scored twice against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday

Antoine Griezmann put a dominant Barca ahead on the hour when he turned in a cross from Frenkie de Jong, who then doubled the Catalans’ lead three minutes later.

Messi received some rough tackles from Athletic but got his revenge with a spectacular goal in the 68th minute, tearing his way through Athletic’s defence down the right wing and combining with De Jong before dancing around another defender to slot into the net.

Sergio Busquets fights for the ball against Athletic Bilbao's Inigo Martinez
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Sergio Busquets fights for the ball against Athletic Bilbao’s Inigo Martinez

Barca’s captain struck again four minutes later when he met a low cross from Jordi Alba and fired into the bottom corner, his shot proving too powerful for Athletic keeper Simon.

There was a strong sense of deja vu for Athletic, who have now lost four Copa del Rey finals to Barca since 2009, with Messi scoring each time.

The Basques have lost their last six appearances in the final and only two weeks ago were beaten 1-0 by Real Sociedad in the 2020 rescheduled showpiece, which was also played at an empty La Cartuja stadium in Seville.

Barcelona overwhelmed Athletic Bilbao in the second half in Sevilla
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Barcelona overwhelmed Athletic Bilbao in the second half in Sevilla

Barca were hurting from last week’s 2-1 loss to Real Madrid but took the initiative with 79 per cent of possession in the first half and almost went ahead when De Jong struck the post early in the game, with Messi later smashing a shot just wide.

Athletic had beaten Barca 2-1 after extra time in January’s Spanish Super Cup final but showed little ambition here and had only one attempt in the first half, when defender Inigo Martinez prodded just wide of the near post following a free kick.

Athletic keeper Simon pulled off three impressive saves in quick succession early in the first half, using his left leg to thwart Griezmann and then Sergio Busquets from point-blank range while also keeping out a driven shot from Pedri. Griezmann finally got the better of Simon to break the deadlock and once Barca were ahead they showed no mercy.

Musiala goals send Bayern closer to title

Jamal Musiala is congratulated after scoring for Bayern Munich
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Jamal Musiala is congratulated after scoring for Bayern Munich

Teenager Jamal Musiala scored twice in the first half to steer Bayern Munich to a nervous 3-2 victory at third-placed VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday to move seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with five matches left to play.

Three days after their Champions League quarter-final elimination by Paris Saint-Germain, the Bavarians made almost certain of their first silverware of the season after RB Leipzig stumbled to a goalless draw against Hoffenheim on Friday.

Musiala put the visitors in front after 15 minutes when he weaved his way through three defenders in the box and fired in.

The 18-year-old Germany international then added another with a looping header in the 37th to make it 3-1 and become the youngest player in Bundesliga history to have scored six league goals. He came close to a hat-trick a little later but his effort was cleared on the line.

Bayern Munich responded well to their Champions League exit
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Bayern Munich responded well to their Champions League exit

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had doubled Bayern’s lead in the 24th, but Wolfsburg’s top striker Wout Weghorst cut the deficit in the 35th with his 19th goal of the campaign.

The Wolves pulled another goal back in the 54th with Maximilian Philipp but missed several chances to level through Weghorst and a Jerome Roussillon shot in the 84th minute that flew just wide of keeper Manuel Neuer’s post.

Bayern, on track for a record-extending ninth straight league crown, are on 68 points, with RB Leipzig in second place on 61.

Wolfsburg held on to third spot on 54 points despite their defeat after Eintracht Frankfurt‘s 4-0 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach that left them a point behind the Wolves in fourth.

Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen‘s Leon Bailey scored twice and set up another goal as his team eased past Cologne 3-0 on Saturday to keep alive their slim hopes of a top-four finish with five matches remaining in the Bundesliga.

Last-placed Schalke 04 slumped to a 4-0 loss at Freiburg that all but sealed their relegation. The Royal Blues are 13 points behind the relegation play-off spot occupied by Hertha Berlin with five games left.

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Laporta convinced Messi will stay at Barcelona

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is confident Lionel Messi will stay at the club next season after delivering a vintage performance in their Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao.

The Argentine scored a sensational individual goal midway through the second half of Saturday’s showdown in Seville after strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong had put the Catalans in charge.

He then adorned an outstanding display by netting again before lifting the trophy for the seventh time in his career but first since becoming club captain in 2018.

Barca’s all-time top scorer and most decorated player has only two months left on his contract and tried to leave last year after falling out with then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

But Laporta, who presided over Messi’s rise to stardom in his first stint as Barca chief and was elected for a second time last month, said he felt the captain would stay at the club where he has spent his career since joining aged 13.

“Leo is the best player in the world and has a very strong bond with the club. I’m convinced he wants to stay and we’ll do everything in our hands to make sure he does,” Laporta said.

“Today he could see he is backed up by a great team who are capable of playing beautiful football.”

Messi gave no hints about his future after the game but commended his side for overcoming a terrible start to their season to go and win the Copa and re-join a thrilling three-way race for La Liga title alongside leaders Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

“We struggled to get going in the first half of the season and lost a lot of points by being naive but then we got a lot stronger, started playing really well and got ourselves back into the fight,” Messi said.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman also paid tribute to Messi after the game: “Leo has spent years demonstrating that he is the best player in the world and he was very effective today.”

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Barca top Forbes rich list; Man Utd drop to fourth

Barcelona top the Forbes list of the world’s 20 most valuable football clubs for the first time.

Despite considerable financial debt of more than £1bn, Barca have knocked Real Madrid off their perch to second place.

The Catalans are valued at £3.46bn ($4.76bn), only narrowly ahead of Real’s valuation of £3.45bn ($4.75bn).

Manchester United remain the most valuable Premier League club at £3.06bn ($4.2bn) – but have dropped from third to fourth in the world, behind Bayern Munich at £3.07bn ($4.215bn).

Liverpool (£2.98bn), Manchester City (£2.91bn), Chelsea (£2.33bn) and Arsenal (£2.04bn) follow on before Paris Saint-Germain (£1.82bn) and Tottenham (£1.67bn) – meaning six Premier League clubs still feature in the top 10.

Marcus Rashford at Old Trafford
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Manchester United remain the most valuable British football club

Forbes’ release says Liverpool have seen an 88 percent rise in their value over the past two years, as they have clinched the Premier League and Champions League titles.

PSG’s move into the top 10 sees Juventus drop out from 2020’s valuations into 11th place.

Everton (£479m), West Ham (£369m) and Leicester (£331m) are also in the top 20 – the Foxes creeping in for the first time at number 19, above Eredivisie champions Ajax.

Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Roma are the other clubs to feature in the top 20.

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Real edge Clasico thriller to reclaim top spot

Real Madrid moved top of La Liga with a 2-1 victory over eternal rivals Barcelona in a thrilling Clasico at a rain-soaked Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Karim Benzema’s audacious near-post flick and Toni Kroos’ deflected free-kick left Real in control at the break, and Zinedine Zidane’s side should have had more to show for their superiority on the counter, with Federico Valverde rattling the post.

Lionel Messi was denied by the post at the end of the first half as his Clasico goal drought extended to seven matches, but, in monsoon-like conditions, Barca halved the deficit when Oscar Mingueza converted Jordi Alba’s cross after Antoine Griezmann’s clever dummy.

Madrid lost Casemiro to two yellow cards in the space of a minute as Barcelona piled on the pressure in search of a late equaliser but their comeback fell agonisingly short, with substitute Ilaix Moriba’s thunderous effort cannoning off the bar in the final minute of stoppage time.

The defeat brings Barcelona’s 19-game unbeaten run to an end and hands the initiative in the La Liga title race to champions Real Madrid, who are level on points with Atletico Madrid but replace them at the summit by virtue of their superior head-to-head record.

Player ratings

Real Madrid: Courtois (8), Vazquez (7), Militao (8), Nacho (8), Mendy (6), Casemiro (5), Modric (7), Kroos (8), Valverde (6), Vinicius Jr (6), Benzema (8).

Subs: Asensio (5), Marcelo (6), Odriozola (6), Isco (5), Mariano (5).

Barcelona: Ter Stegen (6), Dest (5), Araujo (6), Mingueza (7), Lenglet (6), Alba (7), Busquets (6), De Jong (7), Pedri (6), Dembele (5), Messi (6).

Subs: Griezmann (7), Braithwaite (5), Trincao (5), Sergi Roberto (6), Moriba (6).

Man of the Match: Toni Kroos.

Real seize initiative in La Liga title race

Before the match, all eyes were on Messi as he matched the injured Sergio Ramos’ record with his 45th Clasico appearance, though it remains to be seen if either or both men have now made their last.

The 33-year-old was soon involved in some encouraging moves as Barca dominated the early exchanges, but they did not manage to test Thibaut Courtois before Benzema struck with 13 minutes gone.

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona
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Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona

Lucas Vazquez sent in a low cross from the right and Benzema got in front of Ronald Araujo to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at his near post with a backheeled finish.

Barca responded brightly, but Messi’s cross was too high for Ousmane Dembele and again Courtois’ goal was not seriously threatened before the second goal came.

Team news

  • Federico Valverde replaced Marco Asensio in Real Madrid’s only change from the Champions League victory over Liverpool.
  • Ronald Araujo replaced Antoine Griezmann in Barcelona’s only change from the dramatic late win over Valladolid.

Vinicius Junior, instrumental in the midweek win over Liverpool, was brought down on the edge of the area to present Kroos with the opportunity from the set-piece.

The Germany international struck his free-kick well enough but it would go in with the help of a deflection off Sergino Dest, with Alba unable to adjust on the line as he could only help the ball into the net.

Barca were reeling and moments later Federico Valverde turned Vinicius’ cross on to the post before Vazquez shot straight at Ter Stegen on the follow-up.

After Dembele’s claims for a penalty were waved away, it was Messi’s turn to strike a post as his corner beat Courtois, but Barca would go in 2-0 down at the break.

Toni Kroos celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona
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Toni Kroos celebrates scoring Real Madrid’s second goal

Griezmann replaced Dest at the break, with Mingueza moving to right back, and the move would pay off as Griezmann added attacking impetus and then, on the hour, the former found the net.

As torrential rain lashed down, it was a goal to match the conditions with the full-back failing to make a clean connection after both Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong missed Alba’s cross, though he did enough to bundle it home.

Oscar Mingueza celebrates scoring for Barcelona vs Real Madrid
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Oscar Mingueza celebrates scoring for Barcelona vs Real Madrid

Madrid responded to the setback by striking the post through Vinicius as the game opened up. Barca had another penalty shout with nine minutes left when substitute Martin Braithwaite went down while challenging Ferland Mendy for the ball but despite their furious protests, nothing was given.

There was one more late twist when Casemiro was sent off in the last minute, earning a second booking for fouling Messi, but it did nothing to change the result as Barca’s frustration was summed up by a stoppage-time effort from Ilaix which struck the crossbar.

What’s next?

Real now go to Anfield to face Liverpool in their Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday at 8pm, leading 3-1 from the first leg, before going to Getafe in la Liga on Sunday at 8pm.

Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday at 8.30pm.

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