Barcelona rallied from a second half deficit to defeat second division side Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in the Copa del Rey round of 16 on Wednesday night at the Estadio de Vallecas in Madrid.
Ronald Koeman’s team were on the wrong end of the scoreboard with a little more than 20 minutes to play, but managed to turn things around through Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong to punch their ticket to the Copa quarter-finals.
It was far from a pretty display from Barcelona, with three shots hitting the woodwork and a number of chances wasted in the final third, but it was still enough to eliminate the pesky hosts from Vallecas.
Koeman welcomed Messi back into the fold up top with Antoine Griezmann and Trincao, while Riqui Puig was also included in midfield after his cameo goal over the weekend. In defence, the Dutch boss used the same back four that started at Cornella, along with Neto in goal.
The first big chance arrived when De Jong came within an inch of scoring as he managed to get a toe on Ronald Araujo’s cross right in front of Rayo goalkeeper Dimitrievski, only to see his shot spin off the crossbar.
Later in the half, Koeman’s men should have had the first goal of the night when Trincao got loose on the right flank and had a four-on-two situation, with Messi trailing unmarked. But instead of cutting back to the Argentine, Trincao went for goal and had his shot blocked, with the rebound falling to Puig, whose shot took a deflection and then hit the post.
Barcelona opened the second stanza on the front foot, with Messi swinging a freekick off the crossbar from a narrow angle.
Rayo were growing into the match, though, and were handsomely rewarded for it by taking a 1-0 lead through Fran Garcia, who only had to push the ball into net from a yard away after some excellent work on the right wing from Alvaro Garcia, who skinned Clement Lenglet before feeding Garcia.
Minutes after the Rayo goal, Koeman made three changes, with Ousmane Dembele, Jordi Alba and Pedri replacing Trincao, Puig and Junior Firpo. It produced an immediate spark, with De Jong hoofing up a long ball to an onside Griezmann, who crossed to a wide-open Messi and the finish was never in doubt to make it 1-1.
Barcelona could smell blood and the veteran connection of Jordi Alba and Messi would set the table for the match-winning goal, with Messi picking out the streaking Jordi Alba, who crossed for the charging De Jong and the Dutchman slammed in a shot from close range to give Barcelona their first lead of the night.
Koeman made one final substitution, with Martin Braithwaite on for Griezmann, but the final look at goal came for Messi, who danced around Dimitrievski and a Rayo defender with the goal glaring, but then fired wide.
Fortunately for the Pulga, the missed chance did not come back to haunt his side, who claimed their spot in the Copa’s final eight.
1.- Rayo Vallecano: Dimitrievski, Ivan Martos (Advincula, min. 84), Catena, Saveljich, Mario H (Isi, min. 84), Fran Garcia, Comesana, Trejo, Joni Montiel (Alvaro Garcia, min. 56), Andres Martin (Mario Suarez, min. 71), Qasmi (Antonin, min. 71).
2.- Barcelona: Neto, Mingueza, Lenglet, Araujo, Junior (Pedri, min. 68), Busquets, De Jong, Riqui Puig (Jordi Alba, min. 68), Trincao (Dembele, min. 68), Griezmann, Messi.
Goals: 1-0, min. 63: Fran Garcia; 1-1, min. 69: Messi; 1-2, min. 80: De Jong
Referee: Cuadra Fernandez (Balear).
Yellow cards: Comesana (Min. 10) for Rayo, Trejo (Min. 54) for Rayo, Dembele (Min. 73) for Barcelona, Braithwaite (Min. 90) for Barcelona
Red cards: None