Luis Suárez bagged four goals and Lionel Messi a hat-trick of his own to help Barcelona to an emphatic 7-0 victory over Valencia at the Camp Nou and effectively secure their place in the final of the Copa del Rey. After two goals early on from Suárez, Messi took center stage in the first leg of their semifinal, reaching yet another landmark in his extraordinary career by netting his 500th and 501st goals.
While there can be an argument over the validity of this record, given it includes goals scored by Messi in Argentina’s Under-21 and Under-20 sides, there can be no question of his place among the all-time greats. Nor can there be any doubt that it is merely a matter of time before he removes any question marks. And with Neymar and Suárez, who scored two more late on to take his season tally to 31, continuing to thrive in a mesmeric front line, Barcelona will take some stopping if they are to be denied repeating not only as Copa del Rey winners, but as Treble winners as well.
The situation could not be more different for Valencia, whose season has gone from bad to worse with a humbling defeat. In a competition that has so far brought his only solace in a miserable start to his management career, Gary Neville will be bitterly disappointed with the manner of his side’s capitulation, even against such supreme opposition. And having yet to secure a single La Liga victory, he’s future will be called into question just two months after taking charge.
The manner of the opening goal his team conceded, less than seven minutes in, will already have caused huge frustration for the former Manchester United stalwart. Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes was caught napping on the ball in the middle of the field by Neymar, who burst forward and teed up Suárez to his right who made no mistake with a low finish.
It took just five minutes for Barcelona to double their lead. This time Valencia were bamboozled by a sumptuous passing move. Sergio Busquets clipped a ball over the top of the defense where Aleix Vidal met it on the byline to volley it perfectly into the path of Suárez to coolly shoot home.
There was plenty to admire, too, about the goal that put Barcelona 3-0 up before the 30-minute mark had even be reached. Andres Iniesta injected pace into the attack with a typically incise dribble, before feeding the ball inside toward Neymar, who stylishly flicked it on. And after Suárez cleverly let the ball run, Messi had a simple finish from the center of the penalty area.
Having also taken off Danilo shortly after a heavy challenge by Jeremy Mathieu, things continued to go desperately wrong for Neville and Valencia. In first-half injury time, Messi was allowed to run on to a Busquets pass over the top before being stopped from applying the finishing touch by a sliding challenge from Shkodran Mustafi. The foul earned the German a red card and Barcelona a penalty. But one thing did go Valencia’s way in the first 45 minutes, and that was Neymar, with no run up, striking the post with his spot kick.
Still, despite Barcelona coach Luis Enrique withdrawing Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba before the end, there was to be relief for Valencia after the interval. If not already, the semifinal was effectively ended when Messi fed off a delightful flick from Suárez, held off a defender and finished low into the corner in the 59th minute. Messi soon had his hat-trick when robbing Daniel Parejo in the area and drilling a low shot past the beleaguered Valencia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan at his near post.
With the Argentine having secured the match ball, it was now Suárez’s turn. The Uruguayan this time showcased his aerial ability by meeting a deep cross from Adriano and heading into the net. And with two minutes remaining Valencia’s misery was complete. Again it was all too easy, with a low pass into the box from Arda Turan being swept into the net first-time by a delighted Suárez.