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FC Barcelona have started their defence of the Copa del Rey with a win at the home of Primera Division RFEF side Linares Deportivo but it took a second half comeback to do it. The home side had taken a shock lead after 19 minutes and were coping extremely well in front of their vociferous home fans.
But there was to be no giant-killing tonight. The Catalans were finally able to make their superiority show in the final half hour, but this was by no means an easy victory against a side seven places below the Barça reserves in their league.
All credit has to go to today’s host for putting up a tremendous battle, but logic imposed itself in the end and Barça are one step closer to returning to Andalusia for the final in Seville.
Alves debuts again
Xavi was clearly taking this game very seriously, making just four changes to the side that beat Mallorca at the weekend. And three of those were Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves, none of whom had been available for that game – the latter finally cleared to make his first appearance for the team in 2,054 days.
And it became immediately apparent that he’d been wise to pick a strong team. Although Barça started sprightly, with fine early chances for Ronald Araújo and Ilias Akhomach, Linares were keen to make the most of the big occasion. They were keen to have a go, and a fine cross from Fran Carnicer on 19 minutes was met by the head of Hugo Diaz…
The lower league side were not only in the lead but were also dealing with the situation with remarkable confidence. Much as Barça were dominating, with 82% possession and Nico, Jutglà, Eric Garcia, Riqui Puig all coming close, by half-time they were still trailing.
Dembélé to the rescue
Xavi may have been secretly expecting to give a few more of his younger players a run-out at this stage, but this game was proving to be no walk in the park. Instead, he added more experience to the mix by sending out the old guard of Gerard Piqué, Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembélé.
The Frenchman had scored Barça first goal of last season’s cup campaign to get Barça out of a tight spot against Cornellà, and it was the same man who finally ended Barça’s desperate quest to get back into this game.
It had been constant pressing to no avail before he deftly curled the ball into the net. Ghanaian international keeper Brimah Razak will feel he should have done better with his save attempt, but that was Barça back level!
And that was also Dembélé's first goal of the season... Surely the first of many, many more...
Jutglà seals it
Linares looked to have struck right back when they had a goal disallowed, and instead it was Barça who were soon leading. Jutglà looked ready to set up a chance for a team-mate but then opted to make a run on goal and that was 2-1 Barça!
Linares refused to lie down easily and at one point had Neto beaten but not the woodwork, while Dembélé capped a lovely solo move by striking the crossbar at the other end.
In the moments when they had the ball, Linares still looked like they might be able to do something, but Barça were making sure that those moments were few and far between and the minutes ticked down on a much closer contest than most would have anticipated but it was a victory nevertheless and Barça are into the last sixteen of the cup!
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