In a shocking result in Seville, Valencia upset Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey.
This is Valencia’s first Copa (and trophy) since 2008 and is also the first time since 2014 that Barcelona have failed to win the tournament. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Dani Parejo
Valencia’s captain has long gone under the radar of, well, pretty much everyone. A former Real Madrid player, he moved to Getafe and then joined Valencia in 2011. He’s been consistently quite brilliant pretty much ever since but due to the otherworldly depth of the Spanish midfield (and midfields in Spain), Parejo doesn’t get a look-in.
Tonight, however, he played in his first-ever cup final with Valencia and he put in an almost flawless display. For a player who has had to wait so long for a shot at the big time, Parejo played with a serenity that belied his inexperience at this level. He was the best player on the park in the first 45 minutes, controlling the match and playing key passes in the build-up to both goals.
His only flaw? Getting injured just after the hour mark, forcing Valencia to take him off. Without their talisman, Valencia began to succumb to mounting Barcelona pressure. They conceded once and it looked like they might let an equaliser slip, but in the end they saw it through without their captain and Parejo got to lift Valencia’s first trophy in over a decade. A feelgood moment for a feelgood player.
Loser: Nelson Semedo
Semedo is often a loser when Barcelona play, even if he doesn’t actually play he loses. He’s such a superior player to Sergi Roberto that the very notion of him being left out of the Barcelona XI, hurting his adaption to the Blaugrana, is ludicrous. But he got the start tonight against Valencia, and lets just say he failed to state his case.
It’s not that he was shockingly bad in terms of overall play. He provided good thrust in attack, showing his pace on the overlap, but he fell asleep twice defensively and Valencia punished him both of those times.
First he pushed up way too high, allowing Valencia to play the ball in behind him and then cross to score. And then just over 10 minutes later he was asleep at the back post, allowing Rodrigo to run in front of him to head home a cross from the right-flank. He was subbed off at half-time, and for once he can blame no one but himself. A shambolic showing.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Barcelona and part of that has to do with Ousmane Dembélé missing them with a hamstring injury. Of course, Dembélé’s injury shouldn’t have been so much of a problem because Barcelona did sign Malcom in summer 2018. The Brazilian is a blisteringly quick and ambitious winger, and would have been an able understudy for Dembélé should he be given the chance.
But for whatever reason, he’s never been given that chance. Not at all during the season. There have been a few games here and there, but by and large he’s been on the bench watching. Even though he has huge goals against Inter and Real Madrid in his limited minutes, Ernesto Valverde doesn’t trust him. So he played just five minutes in the Anfield collapse even though his pace would have helped avert it, and he didn’t start tonight and had to watch his side collapse into a 2-0 hole before being brought on at half-time.
That’s why he’s a winner, though. Because Malcom excelled after coming on. Not only did he actually use his pace to good effect in terms of actually running at the Valencia defenders, but he passed the ball effectively and even held it up nicely so Sergi Roberto’s hospital passes up the line ended up being useful. Malcom was one of Barcelona’s three best performers after the break and although Barça couldn’t turn things around, the Brazilian showed why he deserves another season at the club. One where he can, y’know, actually play.
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Loser: Ivan Rakitic
For a man who publicly refuted talk of his exit and stated his ambition to win more Champions Leagues with Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic sure played the Copa del Rey final like a man who had already accepted that he would be sold in the summer.
Rakitic is often capable of these kinds of performances where he just meanders through games as an offensive presence, but he nearly always makes up for it in a defensive capacity where he protects the Blaugrana defence. Today, though, he was nowhere to be seen.
The nadir of his display was when he failed to cover Sergio Busquets when the Spaniard pushed up to press in the first half, and that was the space from which Kevin Gameiro blasted Valencia into the lead. The Croatian added nothing to Barcelona’s comeback effort, and was taken off with 14 minutes left and for the first time in the night he showed some gumption, kicking the bench and throwing bottles around.
He may want to win another Champions League with Barcelona but if the Blaugrana are sensible they won’t give him the chance.
21st time lucky? Marcelino had previously played Barça 20 times as coach with six different clubs and never beaten them. He managed six draws (two of them coming in La Liga this season) but usually he tasted defeat. Not tonight, though, tonight he guided his side to a win.
And it was a win that his team deserved. Los Che began the game nervously but once they settled in they really took the game to Barcelona. They raided on the break when they had to but they also passed the ball around for fun. In fact their first goal saw them attack down the right, play it all the way back to defence then bring it out, attack down the left and score.
That’s a remarkable achievement to do in a cup final against Barcelona, a side that has won the last four Copas in a row. And it’s all down to Marcelino. He has never wavered in how he wanted his side to play football and never been afraid to have his side impress themselves upon their opponents. Alright sometimes the lack of a consistent, elite goalscorer haunts them like when they drew 10 of their first 14 games this season, or were four points off relegation halfway through the season, but under him they have nearly always been trending upwards.
Marcelino’s all-time managerial record against Barcelona:
If you’re going to win one, may as well make it a cup final. ? pic.twitter.com/mb0XhtgIEU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 25, 2019
Perhaps the greatest mark of Marcelino’s success is that Valencia, like Barcelona, got smacked around in a European semi-final by a Premier League side. But instead of sit around and mope about it as Ernesto Valverde’s side seemed to have been doing, he lifted his team to secure Champions League football for next season and now win a massive cup final. Marcelino is a great coach, no doubt about it.
Loser: Ernesto Valverde
Here we go again (again). You have to wonder how a manager can make the same mistake so many times when it has now twice basically ruined his season and caused all his good work in La Liga to go unnoticed. Yup, you know what happened. Ernesto Valverde sent his team out onto the pitch against Valencia with precisely two quick players: his full-backs. At first it appeared that Barça were playing a 3-4-3 and it looked like the coach had sprung a tactical surprise! But, no. He had not.
So Barcelona had lots of the ball but did almost nothing against a supremely organised Valencia defence, who broke thrice, scored twice and had one shot cleared off the line. Barcelona looked befuddled, and everyone everywhere wondered how the same stuff had happened again. A question made even more frustrating by the half-time introduction of Malcom, the blazing Brazilian winger who energised the Barcelona attack and allowed them to press Los Che back and even grab a goal.
In the end it wasn’t enough, because they left themselves too big a mountain to climb (though maybe if he’d taken off Babylungs Coutinho instead of Arthur, they could have done it because the no. 7 did literally nothing positive in the entire second half) and Ernesto Valverde became the first Barcelona manager to lose a Copa del Rey final since 2014. 2014! Spain were still World Champions and Real Madrid had won only 9 Champions League titles (they now have 13). The Blaugrana’s dominance of the Copa del Rey was taken as a given, a justification for all the energy spent pursuing it in January, but Ernesto Valverde can do anything.
He has to get sacked now, surely?