By Far The Greatest Team

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Copa del Rey Recap: A pair of close matches means that both ties are still in the balance

Camp Nou, Barcelona – The goalscorer, the match-winner, the player who has now scored 16 goals in 16 consecutive games in all competitions, admitted that his side’s advantage going into the second-leg is minimal. “There are 90 minutes left,” Luis Suarez said, “and Valencia at home are always stronger.” One thing is for sure; there’ll be more in the stands for the return leg than there were in Barcelona. Rainy conditions and a Thursday night kickoff didn’t help to attract fans Ernersto Valverde believed – the Camp Nou was merely 50 per cent full.

Those in attendance didn’t watch a first-half to savour. Barcelona looked slow – not as slick as you’d expect in a Copa del Rey semi-final. However, they still dominated. Marcelino’s side were happy to sit back, defend deep – they were possibly too respectful to the league leaders according to Suarez. There were no shots on target – for either side – and even getting through the Valencia defence proved a problem for the hosts. Leo Messi and Suarez – there was no Philippe Coutinho until the hour mark – were largely left isolated.

Los Che often conceded possession – their passing was poor and captain Dani Parejo was guilty of starting more attacks for Barcelona than his own side. The quality of the match was not of the level of a Copa semi-final. Toward the end of the half, Barcelona looked as if they were going to go in for the break ahead – an Andres Iniesta cross was clawed by goalkeeper Juame Domenech preventing Suarez from reaching the ball.

The second-half was much more open – Valencia were more aggressive and pressed the Barcelona defence but struggled to find the finishing touch to trouble Jasper Cillessen. As the hour mark came and went, it was the influential axis of Jordi Alba and Leo Messi that yielded the only goal of the contest. Iniesta fed Alba on the left, and the full-back played a searching ball to Messi. The Argentine artfully collected and floated a pass over six Valencia players for Suarez, who leant back to head in at the far post.

La Blaugrana fancied a second – the search for cushion was what the crowd wanted – and Messi came close with a curling free-kick flying just over the crossbar. Substitute Paco Alcacer also had a chance when he volleyed from 30-yards out to test Domenech. Los Che had late chances of their own – Santi Mina with both of them – but the away goal didn’t arrive. Post-match, Valverde highlighted that Espanyol had a 1-0 lead going into the second-leg of the quarter-finals and didn’t progress. Certainly, this tie is far from over. Barcelona 1–0 Valencia

Butarque, Madrid – He was certainly in unfamiliar surroundings. So often Julen Lopetegui – the Spanish national team manager – has travelled to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu or to the home of Atletico Madrid to cast an eye on the plethora of Spanish talent available to him. But on Wednesday evening he sat there – in a director’s box lacking the frills of the Bernabeu and only room for the most of important of officials – observing how Madrid’s miracle men performed in one of the most important matches in their history.

He may be going there more often after what he saw – to watch this Leganes achieve what they have on TV is one thing but to be a part of it, to be amongst it, in the compact Butarque stadium is special. To top that off by trying one of their famed lomo sandwiches is truly glorious. Lopetegui was watching a team and a Copa del Rey semi-final with a difference.

The hosts – having beaten Real Madrid – welcomed Sevilla and possibly might have been slightly overawed by the occasion as the visitors started the sharpest. Two early chances required blocks from goalkeeper Nereo Champagne and then midfielder Gerard Gambau. Leganes soon enough overcame their initial anxiety and began to craft some very nice football – even though placing a shot on target proved to be more difficult.

Sevilla lurched forward in hope of an opener – Ever Banega, who’s found his form again since returning to Sevilla, played an inch-perfect pass to Pablo Sarabia. The forward then played the ball on to the right and Luis Muriel managed to get around the ball and curl a shot with his right foot past Champagne and into the back of the net. The Madrid din, for the first time since last Wednesday, was quelled. Sevilla were enjoying the best of the play, and the home crowd knew it.

Angel Correa, Clement Lenglet, and Gabriel Mercado all came close to doubling Sevilla’s lead. Claudio Beauvue, however, could have drawn the hosts level just before half-time – a loose ball fell perfectly for the Leganes striker inside the penalty area but his right-footed strike flew just over the crossbar.

The second-half brought about a greater sense of urgency for los pepineros and that came with an increase in possession and hope. 10 minutes of the second-half had been played when Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico performed the same trick that he had done at the weekend. The Spanish goalkeeper jumped to claim a cross only for a weak challenge by Dimitrios Siovas to lead to a fumble, a header, and a goal. Marca labelled it ‘a rich failure’ – a clever play on the word ‘rico’.

Sevilla had 30 minutes to respond but it was no easy task against a Leganes defence that was standing resolute. There were no further goals. Leganes had remained in the tie – their aim at the beginning of the evening. ‘The Pizjuan will decide the semi-final’ was the headline of newspaper Sport. The last game of this Copa run to be played at Butarque was one largely dominated by the visitors – as has often been the case – but the result gives Madrid’s miracle men hope of going one further. Leganes 1–1 Sevilla

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