Barcelona had to come from a goal behind against Spanish third-tier side Cartagena to take a 3-1 lead from the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-32 tie at the Estadio Cartagonova. On the back of two straight defeats, things were looking even more uncomfortable for Barcelona coach Tata Martino when the team from Seguna Division B took the lead after just 16 minutes through Fernando. But Barcelona responded to take the lead by half-time though goals from Pedro and Cesc Fabregas before Pedro and substitute Jean-Marie Dongou made the result comfortable after the break.
The result will come as something of a relief for Martino with doubts about the style of play he is implementing being added to of late by defeats to Ajax and Athletic Bilbao. Still, the Argentine’s critics are unlikely to be quieted after a most-expected win, despite Barcelona becoming increasingly dominant in the match and failing to take a host of chances that would have made the score-line even more emphatic.
Martino unsurprisingly elected to make several changes to his lineup, with Gerard Pique, Xavi and Andres Iniesta not even in the squad, while Neymar and Javier Mascherano remained on the bench. Still, there remained plenty of quality on show, including Jordi Alba. The Spain international full-back made his first appearance since September after recovering from injury.
Barcelona’s defense, marshalled by captain Carles Puyol and Marc Bartra, looked vulnerable in the opening exchanges, however, and it was not a total surprise when Cartagena went in front. A through ball caught out Barcelona’s center-back duo and, with Puyol unable to catch up to him, Fernando showed a clinical touch by firing low past Jose Manuel Pinto in the visitors’ goal.
Barcelona, who had already spurned chances by that point, continued to be wasteful in trying to make their pressure count. Pedro could have shot himself when through on goal but instead elected a doomed square pass. He was not to make the same mistake in the 36th minute. Fabregas supplied the incisive through ball and Pedro opened up his body before striking low past Jesus Limones. Seven minutes later Barcelona were in front. From Adriano’s cross, Fabregas met the ball 15 yards out and stroked a volley high into the net.
It was all one-way traffic after the break, but Barcelona were again less than ruthless with their chances. Alexis Sanchez was the biggest culprit by somehow striking over the bar from just over six yards out with what was almost an open goal following a low cross. Alba spurned a presentable opportunity too, before he was taken off with 10 minutes remaining.
By that point, though, Barcelona had already got a third goal to clinch a first-leg advantage. From Sanchez’s neat pass, Pedro went one-on-one with Limones and left the Cartagena goalkeeper on his haunches with a clever fake before slotting into the vacant net.
And just before the final whistle Barcelona secured what will surely prove to be a tie-clinching first-leg score-line and one that will allow Martino to make even more changes for the return match at the Camp Nou on December 17. Pedro came close to getting his hat-trick with a shot that came back off the post, but Cameroonian teenager Dongou was on hand to apply the simple finish.