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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Ousame Dembele and Lionel Messi shine as Barcelona reach Copa del Rey quarter-finals

Victory over Levante highlights flaw that two-legged ties has in not producing unpredictable results in the competition

Barcelona's Ousame Dembele, right, and Lionel Messi, centre, both scored for Barcelona in their victory against Levante. AP Photo
Barcelona's Ousame Dembele, right, and Lionel Messi, centre, both scored for Barcelona in their victory against Levante. AP Photo

For the first time in twenty years, Barcelona’s two top-flight football clubs were at home at the same time on Thursday.

Playing on a cold, rainy evening in the last 16 second leg of the Copa del Rey, both clubs got the victories against Valencian sides they needed to take them into the last eight.

Espanyol, who had drawn 2-2 against Villarreal, triumphed 3-1 in the second leg. The team who live in Barca’s shadow and whose marketeers call themselves the marvellous minority are having their usual mid-table season, though they started the league well. Espanyol will not win the league, but they have won the Copa del Rey four times, most recently in 2000 and 2006.

Given Barca’s absolute dominance of Spain’s only domestic cup competition, a repeat looks implausible.

Barca, who had lost 2-1 at Levante last week, won 3-0 in the return leg with two goals from Ousame Dembele and one from Lionel Messi.

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The game was played in front of a very noisy 42,838 crowd, their lowest of the season by 10,000, but the competition is taken seriously.

Dembele scored the opener after 29 minutes – enough to put the Catalans ahead on away goals in the tie and kill the drama which would have built up the longer Barca took to score. The Frenchman, 21, bundled in a second goal a minute later.

He has become a favourite at Camp Nou where his exceptional talents are appreciated, plus his attacking spirit which sees him try to dribble past players.

Dembele combined with Nelson Semedo on the right to set up his side’s third, swept in by Lionel Messi after 53 minutes.

The goal moved Messi to 49 in all Copa del Rey matches, the same as club legend Laszlo Kubala, the Hungarian whose statue stands outside Camp Nou’s main stand.

Messi’s still 15 goals behind Josep Samitier (1919-1932) in the Copa del Rey – one of the few Barca records he does not hold.

Arturo Vidal also had one of his best games for Barca, passing superbly and seldom losing possession. It has not always been clear to see why Barca signed him from Bayern Munich, but it was against Levante.

Other Barca players including Malcom may have hoped for a chance, but the Brazilian winger signed from Bordeaux did not get on the pitch.

Manager Ernesto Valverde said: “We count on Malcom. He has not played today, but there is another game on Sunday.

He has many qualities, many, and we want to see them.”

Levante all but gave up, making three substitutions in 10 minutes after the hour mark. They will aim to stay in the league where they’re currently level on 23 points with neighbours Valencia after 19 games, just four above the relegation zone.

Spain’s Copa del Rey would be more interesting if ties were not played over two legs. Second tier Sporting Gijon, the lowest ranked team left in the competition, beat Valencia last week only to lose 3-0 in Mestalla in the second leg.

Two legs narrow the margin for surprise that can make a cup competition so exciting. There are no teams outside La Liga in the last eight, while Barcelona have won the competition in each of the last four years and played in the final of eight of the last ten.

Before the game, it appeared that Barça might be eliminated by another means after a story surfaced that they had fielded an ineligible player, young defender Chumi, in the first leg.

Barca denied that they had done anything wrong, a claim backed up by the Spanish Football Federation.

Barca’s 29 game unbeaten run came to an end in the Copa del Rey a year ago, with a defeat at Espanyol.

Then they won the second leg – the biggest clubs usually do – but given there are now only the top teams left, they will have to start knocking each other out.

Updated: January 18, 2019 01:10 PM

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