FC Barcelona are one step closer to yet another Copa del Rey final after overcoming a tight encounter against Valencia on a cold, damp night.
The visitors were here to defend and the chances were few and far between but Luis Suárez, scorer of four goals the last time these two sides met in a cup semi-final at the Camp Nou, eventually tipped the balance in favour of the blaugrana.
But just as importantly, Barça avoided conceding any away goals, and that’s a huge bonus going into next week’s second leg at Mestalla, where we could be in for a very different kind of game to the somewhat speculative affair we witnessed tonight.
It was largely predicted that Valencia would come into this game intent on keeping things tight at the back with an eye on taking a more proactive approach in the second leg. And that’s precisely what we got.
Barça enjoyed a massive 79% of the possession in the first half, and almost all of the meaningful action was in the opposition’s half of the field. But no matter what he home side tried, there was either a white shirt in the way or they were missing the little bit of luck they needed over the final metres.
Although there was no questioning which side had produced the better football in the first 45 minutes, it was Valencia who would have been far happier with the way things were going at the break.
The dynamic changed after the restart. Valencia abandoned their ultra-defensive tactics and could have caused a lot more danger than they actually did with a series of rapid counter attacks.
The game had opened up, and it was just what the Catalans needed. For just when Valencia had started to play football, Barça scored.
After 67 minutes, Jordi Alba and Leo Messi were involved in the build-up, with the latter flicking the ball majestically into the perfect zone for Luis Suárez to head home.
The Uruguayan had claimed his 16th goal in as many games.... while the Argentinian's assist was yet more of the brilliance that, where he's concerned, we've almost come to accept as normal!
The 1-0 scoreline was neither brilliant nor a disaster for either side, and there was little sense of urgency in the final half hour, and the game ground to halt with everyone knowing that it will be next week at Mestalla when this semi-final gets truly decided.