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It’s been a turbulent week at FC Barcelona, but there were no signs of any of that getting to the players as they produced one of the most convincing displays of the season so far. Elche were swept aside as they won 5-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 cup tie.
Despite Luis Enrique opting to field all three of Messi, Suárez and Neymar in attack, the game got off to a slow start. Elche were clearly happy just keeping things tight at the back and leaving any attacking plans for the second leg at their home ground. But although those tactics looked to be paying off for a while, they would end up getting severely punished when FCB's attacking threesome moved things up a gear.
The crowd called for a penalty when Neymar was brought down in the Elche area after nine minutes, and the replay suggested that they were right to protest. And there were more chances to follow, the best being a great solo run from Messi after 14 minutes, a long range strike from Dani Alves and a wonderful assist from Messi to set up Neymar, whose deft lob ended up glancing across the face of the goal and wide.
Ten minutes of magic
It seemed extraordinary that Barça hadn’t scored already when Messi, Luis Suárez and finally Neymar were all involved in a tremendous team goal after 34 minutes. That was the impetus for an incredible last ten minutes in which chance after chance flowed for FCB. Neymar very nearly lobbed Elche keeper Tyton to make it two, but seconds later Luis Suárez had found the net with the kind of brilliance that won him the Golden Shoe last season. A fantastic run, fantastic use of space and a fantastic finish made it 2-0 to Barça.
Things didn’t let up. A Neymar strike just skimmed wide of the post and then Messi had a goal disallowed for offside, although replays clearly showed that the referee had got it wrong. Moments after that, with Elche now completely overwhelmed, Neymar was brought down in the area by Enzo Roco and the referee pointed straight at the spot. Up stepped Leo Messi to convert and send his team in 3-0 leaders at the break.
The second half produced more of the same. Not until the 70th minute did Elche get their first shot on goal, and by that time Barça had already stretched their lead to five. On 58 minutes, Messi produced an absolute peach of an assist for Jordi Alba and the full back made no mistake in finding the net. And just one minute later Neymar got his second and Barça’s fifth. His strike from outside of the area did deflect off a defender on the way in, but all the same it was absolute screamer.
With such a commanding lead, Barça could afford to ease off a little for rest of the half, but still managed to prevent Elche from even coming close to a consolation goal that could give them a ray of hope for the second leg. The few remaining chances were all for the Catalans, the best being a fine free kick by Messi that brought out the best in Elche’s Polish keeper, and a clever assist from Suárez to put Pedro through on goal. The Canary islander’s cheeky chip looked to be heading goalward, but ended up going just wide.
The 5-0 win was the ideal way to bounce back from Sunday’s disappointing result at Anoeta, and it means Barça already have a foot and a half through the door into the quarter finals, where an enticing duel with either Real or Atlético Madrid awaits. The latter are in the driving seat in that game following a 2-0 win on Wednesday night.
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