Lionel Messi missed a second-half penalty as Barcelona’s 29-game unbeaten streak was ended by rivals Espanyol 1-0 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
There were few real pluses for Barcelona on a cold, damp night on the outskirts of the Catalan city. If we’re clutching at straws, youngster Carles Alena should benefit from being involved in such a fiery game, while Rafinha made his first appearance in nine months after recovering from a meniscus injury.
Once again, there were too many passengers. Denis Suarez and Aleix Vidal, in particular, were unable to step up after being included in a heavily rotated side. Messi’s penalty record (21 missed out of 86 taken) remains a rare blemish on his career as well.
It was a defeat that brought Barca’s long, 29-game run without defeat to an end, too. Ernesto Valverde’s side had not been beaten since they lost to Real Madrid in the Super Cup in August, and it will hurt to have seen that record disappear against Espanyol.
GK Jasper Cillessen, 6 — Could do little about Espanyol’s well-worked goal. Had previously made one good save from a free kick and, as ever, looked to get attacks started quickly with his feet.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 — Won the penalty that Messi missed and contributed well in attack. One of his side’s better players.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 — Had little to do in the first half against an Espanyol side set up to keep the game tight. Tried to drive Barca forward as they looked for the opening goal after the break.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 7 — Continued his good form with another solid performance, producing a number of intelligent blocks and challenges when Espanyol countered.
DF Lucas Digne, 6 — Given Jordi Alba’s stunning performances this season, there is so much onus on Digne to do more in attack. Was unable to do so here and was one of a few players who will feel they could have done better in the buildup to the goal.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 — Produced some outrageous twists and turns on the ball, keeping possession and drawing gasps from even the home supporters. Was lacking creativity around him, though, with Iniesta and Coutinho both out.
MF Carles Alena, 6 — A bold call from Valverde to include the young midfielder, who didn’t shy away from the occasion. Can consider himself unlucky to have been taken off so early in the second period.
MF Paulinho, 6 — Not his finest performance for Barca, but you get the impression he’d have been dangerous as the game progressed and opened up later on. Unfortunately, he had been taken off with an injury by then and left Estadi Cornella-El Prat with a slight limp.
MF Denis Suarez 5 — A frustrating night for the midfielder, who missed Barca’s best chance in the first half, dragging wide from 6 yards. Another missed opportunity to impress in a big game.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 — Even Messi can have an off-night, it seems. Dropped deep and looked to create openings, but without the rested Alba and Luis Suarez, he didn’t have his usual accomplices, and it told at times, as he looked longingly for Alba to appear, gallivanting down the left. Missed the chance to give Barca the lead, with Diego Lopez making a brilliant save from his penalty.
FW Aleix Vidal, 5 — Like Denis Suarez, failed to take his chance. Questions will now be asked about his future at Barca, with a number of clubs interested in signing him this month.
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