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Messi to Jordi Alba, ball into the box, Barcelona goal


Lionel Messi sprayed a pass out to the left wing to meet the run of Jordi Alba, who fired the ball across the six-yard box for Frenkie de Jong to score. On other occasions, Alba has capitalised on defenders’ eagerness to retreat into position in the penalty area by instead cutting a disguised pass back to the top of the box, where Messi has been waiting to calmly stroke it home. On Wednesday night we saw the former, and it brought the goal with which Barça completed their comeback, having gone behind to Rayo not too long before - and flirted with the possibility of a Copa del Rey upset. That didn’t happen, though: Ronald Koeman threw on Pedri, Alba and Ousmane Dembélé, and the Blaugrana turned the scoreboard on its head. Koeman has Copa victory in his crosshairs.

Rayo and Barcelona serve up enjoyable cup tie at Vallecas

We didn’t get a shock at Vallecas, but we did get a good cup tie. The ground was back open after the recent heavy snowfall in Madrid and, although there are internal tensions at Rayo over the strange decisions made by the club president, that isn’t apparent on the pitch. Andoni Iraola has constructed a solid side that defends with a high line, smothers the opposition in the middle of the park and looks after the ball when in possession. Thanks to all this they got themselves ahead, but when Barcelona pressed all their big guns into service (a number of them started, but not all), the visitors got the tie won. They had to throw everything they had at Rayo and were forced to dig in late on to clear balls hung into the area, but they’re through. Courtesy of an attacking move they turn to again and again, but to which no-one is able to find an answer.

Athletic take on Copa giant-killers Alcoyano on Thursday

Thursday evening’s Copa del Rey action sees Athletic Club go to Alcoy, where the fans have been on cloud nine since their stunning win over Real Madrid. These are the occasions when the supporters' absence from the stands is most keenly felt. The visits of Madrid and Athletic would have covered Alcoyano’s budget for the season, but the club will have to content itself with the 30,000 euros it gets from the Spanish Football Federation per round. They’ve know picked up 120,000, which isn’t a bad chunk of their 700,000 in annual costs, but the fans will be missed, and not just because of the money. Marcelino’s Athletic head into the game in fantastic form, but Alcoyano have now gone nine matches without defeat. Viva la Copa.