Barca had a tough task on their hands.
They had to walk into the San Mamés and find a way beat Athletic Bilbao. To make matters worse, the fixture was a heated Copa Del Rey quarterfinal, with the winner moving on to the 2 legged semifinal.
Looking over Barca’s history in this competition against Bilbao, it’s understandable why this match felt so daunting. But there’s always the possibility of facing the daunting head on and winning in the end.
That’s what Barca was hoping for heading into tonight. So how did Barca fare in this heated competition while playing in one of Spain’s most raucous footballing venues?
Let’s find out.
The first half immediately took a turn for the worst for Barca.
Because inside of the first minute of the match, Barca somehow conceded a goal. Gorka Guruzeta was the early hero for Bilbao, striking a rebound into the back of the net to give Athletic a very early 1-0 lead.
But Barca clawed back, scoring an equalizer in the 26th minute courtesy of Robert Lewandowski. It wasn’t even a clear shot on goal, but it was a goal nonetheless, one Lewandowski desperately needed after his early hooking against Real Betis.
Again, not some classic goal, but it did the job.
Barca had now equalized and had quieted the San Mamés just a bit. That went a long way, as Barca were able to further settle in and poach away at the equal scoreline until they found another goal.
6 minutes later, the fruits of their labor arrived, as it was none other than Lamine Yamal who gave Barca the lead.
This goal was quite special. Yamal received the ball on the right flank, made a quick decision to cut inside, then waited patiently until he found an acceptable shooting path.
Once he found that, he unleashed a powerful left footed shot into the bottom left corner, giving Barca a 2-1 lead.
Sensational goal from the 16 year old, which showed us once again the future Barca have if Yamal can stay steady on his footballing crash course.
With that goal, halftime was here.
Barca did good to withstand the environment, pressure from Bilbao, and the intensity that the match presented. Especially the youngsters Héctor Fort and Lamine Yamal, who both shined greatly in the first half and throughout the match.
But as we know, Barca needed to keep this sort of form going into the second half. If they did, they’d likely walk out of the San Mamés with a gargantuan sized victory. If they didn’t, well I think we knew what would happen.
So let’s discuss how Barca fared in the second half. Spoiler alert, chaos ensued.
Second half (and Extra Time)
The second half was downright chaotic.
For starters, Barca conceded an equalizer just after halftime, with Oihan Sancet smashing a header home to draw the match level once again. The header was made possible after Frenkie De Jong wandered away from an aerial duel with Sancet, opting to defend absolutely nobody instead of putting a body on the Bilbao attacker.
This has been a reoccurring problem with De Jong and it’s safe to say it won’t magically go away any time soon. Which is unfortunate, because if he was consistent enough defensively, he’d be viewed as a more complete midfielder rather than a possession and attack based one instead.
Nonetheless, the match was at 2-2, with loads of time left and plenty more goals being possible based on the flow of the match. But for some odd reason, the scoreline remained the same after the end of 90 minutes and injury time. Surprising considering the action that had taken place prior in the match, but that’s football for you, right?
Anyways, onto extra time we went, with Barca now hedging their bet on a Copa Del Rey semifinal appearance on the backs of teenagers — Pau Cubarsí, Lamine Yamal, and Héctor Fort — littering the field for the Blaugrana.
However, as much as a win would cement a storybook ending for Barca, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
Bilbao scored twice in extra time, with Iñaki and Nico Williams scoring a goal each, to send Barca out of the competition and into another crucial loss via a 4-2 defeat.
Barca looked flat in extra time, maybe due to fatigue, or maybe due to the intensity catching up to them. Either way, Barca looked far from competitive, and they suffered mightily as a result.
I mean, what else can you say?
Barca already had a high mountain to climb, but the task was made even harder with multiple teenagers roaming the field in important spots.
Fort had to come on as a left back — which isn’t even his natural position — yet still looked extremely impressive. Yamal had his goal, while Cubarsí backed up his display against Betis with another solid performance in an even rougher environment.
Big shouts to those players that put it all on the line.
As for the veterans…pure shame. Barca’s midfield looked overrun due to Bilbao’s physicality advantage, the forward line looked dead more times than not, and the defense looked lost way too many times.
Simply not good enough, especially for the times Barca are in, where competition wins such as the Copa Del Rey could go a long way towards easing the financial blockade.
With Barca now out of this competition, Barca doesn’t have a realistic path to a trophy this season. La Liga looks unlikely with Barca’s rollercoaster form, plus Madrid and Girona separating themselves from the pack.
And don’t get me started on the Champions League.
Xavi said previously if Barca went trophyless this season, he’d leave. It’s looking like Barca will go trophyless, so what’ll happen to Xavi?
Big questions looming for Barca and not a lot of answers on the horizon.
Barca’s next match
Barca’s next match will be on Saturday against Villareal.
See you all then!
I’ve been a big time Barca fan since I was 14 years old. I love the club, the history, and the tradition that the club has built over its prestigious history. Forca Barca!