The stage was set for one of the greats of the game to add silverware to his illustrious Barcelona career. Athletic Club knew very well what was coming and it was not surprising that they were thrashed by a team that was superior and of course, their talisman – Lionel Messi – was at his pristine best.

Barca smashed four goals in a 13-minute second-half span and gunned down Athletic Club 4-0 in the 2020-21 Copa del Rey Final at the Estadio de la Cartuja in Seville.

Ronald Koeman went with a three-man backline of Oscar Mingueza, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, meaning Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba played as wing-backs to help support the midfield of De Jong, Sergio Busquets and Pedri. Meanwhile, in the two-man attack, Ousmane Dembele was the odd man out and relegated to the bench.

Koeman’s men came out strong and they came within a whisker of nabbing the first goal in the first five minutes when a De Jong shot rang off the post. But there was also a chance for Athletic at the other end when Inigo Martinez was unable to cleanly connect on a free-kick with only Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat.

Athletic decided to apply the midblock and sit deeper and forced Barca to play wider especially to the right flank where Dest and Mingueza were not as threatening.

After the break, Barca reorganized and Dest looked more threatening as his cross into Griezmann almost resulted in a goal, only for Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon to block the Griezmann shot and the ball deflecting off the Frenchman and out of play.

Barca pressed and piled up the pressure – after a hard hit from Pedri that flashed just wide, somehow Unai Simon managed to deny Busquets from just five yards out to keep things scoreless.

Barcelona finally would get the breakthrough just shy of the hour mark and this time Griezmann was on the mark by stabbing in a cross from De Jong to make it 1-0.

Antoine Griezmann has scored 15 goals so far this season for Barcelona and 4 of those have come against Athletic Club. That’s 26.6% of his goals against one club. Of course, the previous three goals have come with differing sensations. The first two were in the Supercopa final, but that was a game Barcelona lost so instead of his crowning moment his glory was lost. And while he scored the winner in the Liga clash a few weeks later it was somewhat hollow given they had failed to win the trophy.

The goal set the tempo and three minutes later it was 2-0 with Alba curling in a cross from the left and De Jong getting low to steer a header home for the score.

Barcelona were in the mood – Messi and De Jong would put on a show with some slick combination play that ended with Messi basically passing the ball into Unai Simon’s net to stretch the advantage to 3-0.

Starting inside his own half the Barcelona captain dribbled through a couple of Athletic defenders then twice exchanged passes with Frenkie De Jong. The Dutchman’s pass sent him away and all that was left for Messi was to skip inside a defender and casually pass it into the back of the net.

It was goal that recalled his effort against Athletic in the 2015 Copa final.

Perhaps it only made sense that Barcelona closed out their four-goal spurt with a duo that have put so many opponents to the sword, with Alba finding Messi with a cut-back pass from the left and the Argentine squeezing in a left-footed shot for a 4-0 lead.

De Jong enjoyed a fantastic match. He was already playing well in the first hour, snapping into challenges and driving the ball forward into dangerous positions and there is nothing to say about Messi – the man exhibited his class and intent and hinted that he is enjoying himself in Barcelona.

The Argentine, who took the armband from Andres Iniesta in 2018, was clearly thrilled to lead his club to glory in Seville.

“It’s very special to be the captain of this club,” Messi told Barca TV.

“It’s a very special Copa for me because I’m able to lift it [myself].”

“Not being able to celebrate it with our fans is a pity.”

“The situation is what we have to live with. It’s a shame.”

“The Copas are always special and the fans enjoy them a lot.”

“These are two clubs that are used to these finals and [used to] enjoying them a lot.”

A wasteful first half gave way to free-flowing football from Barcelona in the second, with their skipper netting twice.

“We knew that Athletic play like this,” Messi added, “with a very rigid 4-4-2.”

“We were patient on the ball and created our own space.”

“We moved about a lot in the first half and I think they dropped off in the second.”

“We found it difficult to get started in the first half of the season.”

“We dropped points out of innocence.”

“We’ve been getting stronger, very good, and we’re in the title race.”

“The other day, unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a good result in the Clasico.”

At this stage of his career, Messi can’t do it all by himself and needs the support of his teammates and his young and experienced colleagues have stepped up this season.

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Barcelona have cracked in big games this season and the youngsters in the team, like Oscar Mingueza and Pedri Gonzalez, stepped up to the mark here. They can become the players Messi needs by his side in the coming seasons.

 

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