Morbo Minute–Pep’s Boys

One thing I added to my footy repertoire this season was the Copa del Rey.  I tried to predict the entire tournament from the Round of 16 on, with mixed results.  The Round of 16 went well, but once FCB beat Real Madrid in the quarters, I was toast.  I did predict Athletic Bilbao making the final, so I’ve got that going for me.

I made an effort to watch as many games as I could, reading results and keeping track of the competition.  I was rewarded with a fantastic tournament, highlighted by Espnayol’s late surge against Cordoba; Malaga’s choke job against Real Madrid; Mirandes’ stunning run to the semis, including an amazing comeback against Espanyol and the story of the banker/player, before losing to Bilbao; and a tense El Clasico quarter final that saw a sumptuous goal from Abidal and Madrid almost overturn Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the second leg.

Before the tournament got going, I looked at Pep’s record in the cup, which was quite formidable.  Pep was 15W 4D 3L going in to the 2011/12 edition and he went from strength to strength, winning six and drawing two, to put his record at 21W 6D and 3L.  The Final was his swansong with the Blaugrana as he will step aside to figure out his next challenge.

The Final this year matched the two most successful clubs in the competition—FCB with 25 trophies and Athletic with 23.  Barca were looking for a fitting send off for Pep while Bilbao aimed to salvage something from a season of eye catching football without the payoff: 10th in La Liga and Runners-Up in the Europa League.


Copa del Rey Final     FC Barcelona 3  Athletic Bilbao 0

After a month and a half of intense build up, fans and players had to wait three months before the final.  That seems odd.  Add to that the confusion over the date and the location, plus the fact that Euro 2012 preparations have already started, and you got a weird mix.  But the fans were epic, with lots of noise and flags and banners.  In that aspect, the final was epic.

As for me, I missed the game live.  I couldn’t get away from work and then our family went to a minor league baseball game that night, so I had to wait almost 24 hours to watch the replay of the match. . . in Spanish.

What a start for Barcelona.  Alves and Puyol were hurt and Abidal was recovering from surgery so their back line was patched together, but the front six were top choice and after it right from the beginning.  Messi almost scored in the opening 30 seconds and Pedro had a shot deflected 90 seconds later before converting the resulting corner kick scramble.

Despite the fast start, there was still some rust on the Blaugrana machine, especially from Sanchez, but Athletic Bilbao were in quicksand.  Slow, plodding, Muniain not getting any touches; this was a different team than in either league game.  After 20 minutes, FCB doubled the trouble as Iniesta split open the defense and Messi blasted home from a sharp angle.  Then Pedro grabbed his second of the night minutes later when Xavi laid off for him to curl in with his left foot.  3-0 inside half an hour.

Los Leones immediately responded, forcing Pinto into a save and then it appeared as if Pique hauled down Llorente in the box.  If the second goal didn’t break Athletic then the third goal did as they were all over the place for the rest of the half.  To be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to the second half. The result was beyond Los Leones (despite my attempted media blackout I saw the score), so I was off to the bar to watch the US National Team againstScotland.

Phil Ball’s final Soccernet column of the season set the political background (regional autonomy, booing the national anthem, a far right demonstration) for the Cup Final before moving on to the game itself, a match in which Bilbao just could not match Pep’s squad in intensity and depth.

Sid Lowe commented on the completion of the Pep cycle—the fourteenth trophy he won was the same as his first.  And now the next chapter begins.

Chalk on the Boots provided a tactical analysis of the game for El Centrocampista.  He focused on the pressing of each team, the midfield battle (won by FCB), and another poor performance by Amorebieta.  The Blaugrana were fresh, sharp and hungry, which contributed to their domination and easy victory.

Finally, Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog wrapped up the season and Pep’s time in charge basking in a glorious performance from a glorious team.  Players rested with no challenge around the corner were able to fully hit heights, especially in frantic opening half hour to win yet another cup for the club.

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