La Liga

A step too far for Alaves as Messi’s masterclass marks the end of the Calderon…

A Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 last night to win the Copa del Rey and give their outgoing coach Luis Enrique a fitting send-off.

Barca’s third consecutive Copa del Rey adds a little shine to an otherwise disappointing season which saw them narrowly miss out on the league title and elimination at the quarter final stages of the Champion’s League.

Luis Suarez missed the showpiece due to suspension and Javier Mascherano was substituted after just 11 minutes due to an injury sustained in a collision with Marcos Llorente. Mascherano required several minutes of treatment on the field before eventually leaving on a stretcher to be replaced by Andre Gomes.

Barcelona made the early pressing but it was their opponents who had the first real chance. An Ibai Gomez strike evaded Barca keeper Jasper Cillessen and hit the base of the left post before agonisingly creeping along the goal line and wide.

Lionel Messi – who was instrumental throughout – opened the scoring for Barcelona in the 30th minute. The Argentine played a one-two with Neymar before curling an inch-perfect effort past the despairing Fernando Pacheco.

The tens of thousands of travelling Alaves fans were sent into delirium just three minutes later though, when Theo Hernandez scored an equally perfect flighted free kick from the edge of the box. Cillessen was helpless as the ball sailed into the top corner. It must have been a night of conflicting emotions for Hernandez, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid and was playing in the last ever game at the Vicente Calderon. To further thicken this subplot he is set to join Real Madrid in the summer.

Two goals on the stroke of half-time from Neymar and Paco Alcacer gave Barca the breathing space that eventually proved too much for Mauricio Pellegrino’s side. The Basques tried to muster a comeback in the second half – at one point having a Deyverson strike ruled out correctly for offside –but it was in vain and they had to settle for the runner-up spot in what was only their second final in their 96-year history.

Instrumental Messi helps give Enrique a fond farewell

Messi was involved in all three goals for Barca – scoring one, assisting Alcacer’s and contributing to the build up for Neymar’s. The Argentine’s exemplary performance will leave fans with positive memories of Enrique who has endured a turbulent season in the dugout. An indifferent beginning to the league campaign handed the advantage to Real Madrid from the outset and the Champion’s League mauling in Paris turned the tide of support firmly against him. To Enrique’s credit, he recovered the situation, eventually overcoming Paris Saint Germain thanks to a miracle and pushed the league title to the final day. Alas, for him the damage to belief in his ability was irrevocable.

Former Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde is set to be announced as Enrique’s successor on Monday.

The Alaves fairytale ends in disappointment but their achievement stands tall

The tiny team from the Basque hills have possibly enjoyed the best season in their history. Their Copa del Rey feats, combined with a top half finish in the La Liga, are astonishing when you consider their resources. Their players and coaching staff have been a credit to the Basque country and their focus should now turn to solidifying their La Liga status and keeping hold of their best players.

A competitive final – but Barca’s attacking excellence proved a step too far…

Alaves eventually came up short in their David vs. Goliath clash against Barcelona and Lionel Messi, but that is no insult. Better teams have fallen to the prowess of Messi and co. in the past and more will do so in the future. Alaves fought throughout and never gave up the fight. This proved not to be their night, but they can look back on what they have given us this year with immense pride.

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