Barcelona 1-0 Valencia: match report
Luis Suarez headed in the only goal of the game as defending champions Barcelona edged Valencia 1-0 in their Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at a half-full Camp Nou on Thursday.
Barcelona, the record 29-time winners of the tournament, are attempting to become the first team to lift the cup four years in a row since Athletic Bilbao in the 1930s.
But they were forced to labour against a Valencia team missing a trio of key players -- Goncalo Guedes, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Ezequiel Garay -- through injury.
Barcelona dominated possession but had to wait until the 67th minute for the breakthrough.
Not surprisingly, Lionel Messi was the man who unlocked the Valencia defence before setting up Suarez.
The Argentine danced his way into the penalty area before a deft left-footed chip left three defenders out of position and allowed Suarez to score from the edge of six-yard box with a diving header.
Thursday's tight affair was dramatically different to the last time these two teams met at the same stage two years ago -- Barcelona won 8-1 on aggregate following a 7-0 win in the first leg.
Barcelona vs Valencia live stream online: as it happened
Barcelona vs Valencia live stream online: preview
Barcelona welcome Valencia to the Camp Nou on Thursday night - kick-off at 21:30 CEST - as their dreams of a treble remain in tact along with their dreams of a fourth Copa title in a row. Valencia, who pushed Valverde's side early in LaLiga until a recent fall-off in form, have improved immensely under Marcelino in his first year in charge and this is their only real chance at a trophy this season.
Not since 2008, a decade ago for those counting, have Valencia won the Copa del Rey. They beat Getafe that time with goals from Juan Mata, Alexis and Fernando Morientes. There are genuine hopes that Valencia can return to the heady days of the 00's under Rafa Benítez, and less so Ronald Koeman, when Valencia were heavyweights in Spanish football. Gabriel Paulista returns for los Che after missing the game against Real Madrid at the weekend as does Ruben Vezo to help their defense. Ezequiel Garay, Gonçalo Guedes and Geoffrey Kondogbia all miss the trip up the coast as Marcelino's side improve at the back but miss two of their more impressive players further up the field.
Phillipe Coutinho and Yerry Mina are in the squad for Barcelona as is Denis Suárez, who replaces Andre Gomes, along with all the other usual suspects apart from Thomas Vermaelen and Ousmane Dembele.
It will be interesting to see how Valverde's side face the opening leg with Valverde keen to keep a clean sheet and to score in the first leg. An away goal for los Che could is almost necessary but the risk of pushing too far forward has scalded plenty of visiting sides in the past.