Good evening everyone and thank you for joining us as we bring you live coverage as Barcelona
take on Valencia in the first leg of their Copa del Rey
semi-final clash at the Camp Nou.
Barca have now reached the semi-final stages of this tournament for a record eighth time in a row, following the club's battle against fierce rivals Espanyol in the previous round. Ernesto Valverde
's side will be hoping to make the most of their home advantage this evening as they bid to claim their 30th Copa crown.
The current La Liga table suggests that Spain's current two top sides will be going into battle tonight. Barcelona currently hold a firm grip on domestic proceedings at the top of the table, while Valencia still hold second spot despite a rather questionable dip in form of late.
Marcelino Garcia Toral
has already made clear that he feels his side are comfortable in the league, hence why the club has made the decision to rest so many key players of late.
Right, time for some team news now...
BARCELONA STARTING XI: Cillessen; S. Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, A. Vidal, Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquets, Suarez, Messi
Ter Stegen, Denis, Coutinho, Paulinho
, Alcacer, Digne, Yerry Mina
VALENCIA STARTING XI:
Jaume; Montoya, Paulista, Vezo, Gaya, C. Soler, Parejo, Coquelin, Andreas, Rodrigo
VALENCIA SUBSTITUTES: Neto, Zaza, Ferran, Lato, Maksimovic, N. Vidal, S. Mina
The major news for Barcelona fans comes in the way of new signing Philippe Coutinho being left on the bench despite starting against Alavez over the weekend. Valverde has gone with an almost full-strength side at home, with Lionel Messi
and Luis Suarez
leading the hosts' front line. Aleix Vidal
makes a surprise return to the side and looks likely to play in the centre of midfield, as the in-form Paulinho
is also forced to settle for a place on the bench.
The visiting side have been boosted by the return of Carlos Soler
out on the flank following a back injury, while Valencia have also been able to recall Gabriel Paulista
in the heart of defence. Luciano Vietto
partner together up top, meaning that Santi Mina
will be hoping to make an impact from the bench at some point this evening.
Valverde will be well aware that the Mestalla can be a difficult place to visit following Barca's 1-1 draw there earlier in the La Liga campaign, which should place added emphasis on the hosts taking full advantage in front of a home crowd at the Camp Nou.
The Blaugrana have managed to pick up victories in 15 of their last 16 games on home soil. Barca were made to sweat against Alaves over the weekend before coming from behind to secure victory in La Liga. The way in which Alaves setup in that encounter might just stand tonight's hosts in good stead as they go up against a Valencia side who have often proven destructive on the counter this campaign.
One player who will likely be kicking himself following the weekend's encounter will be youngster Nelson Semedo. The Portuguese youngster was given a chance to impress against Alaves but after an underwhelming performance has been left out of tonight's squad completely.
December and January have been peculiar periods for Valencia, who, despite sitting second in the domestic standings, are facing the prospect of four defeats from four across all competitions. Vietto could be vital for the visitors tonight following his hat-trick during the quarters. The frontman does not have the best of records against Barca, though, having played eight, lost eight and scored one goal against the Blaugrana.
Barcelona's record in this competition has been imperious of late, with the Catalonian side winning four trophies on the bounce, as part of a glittering history that has seen the club claim the Copa 29 times since its inception 1903.
Valencia's last triumph in this tournament came back in 2008. That title-winning side featured the likes of Juan Mata
and Fernando Morientes
, all of whom scored in the memorable final victory over Getafe.
Such has been Barcelona's dominance in this cup in recent times, the Blaugranes are undefeated in 31 of their last 33 matches in the competition.
Despite the closely-fought 1-1 encounter between these sides earlier this La Liga term, Barcelona have enjoyed quite the success over Valencia. Barca have have won 10 of their last 12 home matches against Valencia in all competitions, while also scoring at least two goals in 10 of those 12 fixtures at the Camp Nou. Valencia's recent games in the Copa have proven to be entertaining affairs with over 2.5 goals being scored in eight of Valencia's last 10 matches in the cup.
Right, we have just over 10 minutes to go until kickoff and it's time to make a prediction. Barcelona were able to rest both full-backs over the weekend and the return of Jordi Alba
and Sergi Roberto
should provide the hosts with an added energy down the flanks. Valencia have the ability to push the home side hard this evening, although you cannot help but feel the absences of Ezequiel Garay
, Goncalo Guedes
and Geoffrey Kondogbia
might just rob the visitors of the quality record to win this encounter away from home. I'm backing Barca to pinch this with a slender 2-1 victory to take to the Mestalla.
Not long to go before kickoff now and the stadium is filling up nicely. Here's a quick clip from the social media team at Valencia, giving us a glimpse inside the away dressing rooms at the Camp Nou:
The players are just emerging from the tunnel now as we await the start of the game. As usual, there's a fantastic atmosphere inside the Camp Nou amid a political backdrop that has had nearly every corner of the world discussing potential independence in the region for the past few months.
KICKOFF! So the visitors get us moving in white and black, with Barca featuring in claret and blue. Some early pressure from Roberto sees the hosts win a quick corner following a period of impressive pressing. The resulting set-piece fails to clear the first man, though...
Messi lights up the ground with just two minutes played as he goes beyond Coquelin on the edge of the Valencia box. The playmaker still has a lot to do, though, as his lashed effort goes high and wide without troubling Domenech.
All Barcelona in these opening exchanges as the hosts appear to have settled quickly. Vietto manages to get his first touch on the ball for the visitors and he does remarkable well to hold up play in the middle before eventually being hounded out by Busquets.
Still Barcelona dominate but are yet to find the required moment of quality. Messi goes on another impressive solo run, but his cross into the middle is deflected away at the near post by Montoya.
Valencia will not feel too threatened just yet as this is how they have tended to setup for much of this season - soaking up the pressure and looking to play on the break.
Vidal has found himself out on the right in the early moments and this time he seeks to play a through-ball into the run of Suarez, but Gaya gets over in time to provide some cover for the visitors.
CLOSE! Just what Valencia will be hoping for in this game... Rodrigo is able to spring away on the counter although Umtiti does well to recover and clear the ball away for a corner at the vital moment.
The home side are just starting to turn the screw when moving forward now and both of the full-backs are starting to make inroads into the contest. Alba is able to win a corner from a through-ball, leaving Rakitic to see his set-piece cleared away by the first man. Vidal is quickest to react to the loose ball, although he skies his effort way over the bar.
Barcelona look the more likely to create that moment of magic despite Rodrigo's impressive run. This time Rakitic is given far too much space to operate and almost picks out the run of Suarez, but Vezo reads things perfectly and is able to get across and usher the ball out for a goal kick.
CHANCE! Almost for the home side... Messi is played through on goal and he times his run perfectly to get beyond the defence, only to let himself down by firing just wide of Domenech's goal without being able to test the keeper.
This opening goal is starting to feel inevitable now for the home side, this time as Vidal moves cleverly down the right channel before drilling a ball across the face of goal. Rakitic pulls off an adroit dummy, although Gabriel is first to it and he hoofs clear with both Messi and Suarez lurking.
SHOT! More fantastic approach play sees the ball threaded through to Suarez on the edge of the box. The Uruguayan has his back to goal and is able to turn quickly, but his attempt at a bending effort is someway off the required standard and goes sailing over the away goal with the visiting stopper unmoved.
Apart from that counter almost 10 minutes ago, Valencia have offered little to nothing going forward with Barcelona starting to cement their dominance. You have to remember that this contest does run over two legs and Valencia are probably cautious that they still want to be in with a chance going into the game at the Mestalla.
Vidal and Roberto look to combine once again down the right channel, but the former puts just a bit too much pace on his return ball as the pair try to break beyond left-back Gaya.
The work-rate off the ball from Barca has been highly commendable this evening. Valencia have just had no time on the ball when they have been able to win it back. It appears as though Pep Guardiola's six second rule has somehow been shortened by Valverde during his short tenure!
YELLOW CARD! Roberto goes into the book as he comes in late on Pereira with the visitors looking to break. His studs were showing there and it wasn't the prettiest of challenges.
For all of this home pressure, credit must be given to the way in which Valencia have kept their concentration at the back. Barcelona are moving the ball about majestically in this first period, but so far the visitors have kept them at bay despite having very little of the ball. Obviously that organisational brilliance means nothing should they concede, although Valencia have kept things tight thus far.
CLOSE! Wonderful stuff again as Messi switches the ball over the defence towards Iniesta at the back-post. His original cross is blocked, but he then rattles an effort across the face of goal, which just misses the outstretched leg of Suarez.
YELLOW CARD! Ouch... This looks like pure frustration from Pereira, who smashes through Messi and sends the Barcelona man into the air yelping.
Clever free kick from Messi, who tries to bend an effort towards the near-post for the run of Pique. The defender cannot quite get to the ball and Domenech is able to gather. The keeper would have been all but stranded had the Spaniard got a touch to divert the ball goal bound.
Iniesta looks dangerous as we head into the final few minutes of the first half. This time the Spaniard guides a deft through-ball for the run of Alba, who isn't able to get to it in time as the pass runs out for a goal kick. Fantastic vision from the home pair, though...
We're going to have one minute of additional time in the first half...
HALF TIME: BARCELONA 0-0 VALENCIA
Martinez Sanchez calls time on an enthralling first half at the Camp Nou with Barcelona looking in dominant mood on home soil. Valverde's men are yet to find an opener, although Barca have had the visitors swarmed for almost the entirety of the opening 45 minutes here.
The hosts might be a goal or two to the good already had either Messi or Suarez been slightly more clinical, but given the amount of possession for the hosts, Valverde will be confident of going ahead in the second half. Valencia have offered little going forward, although they have been resolute at the back and their organisation has consistently thwarted a Barca side that look in mischievous spirit.
Valencia will be quite happy with how things have played out thus far. They'll be happy taking any sort of draw back to the Mestalla. You do have to worry for the visitors should they concede, though, given that they have offered so little going forward at the Camp Nou.
SECOND HALF! Barcelona get things going again in the second period. Valencia have had to make a change with the injured Pereira being replaced by Nemanja Maksimovic.
Barcelona have started the second half with much the same energy as they ended the first with. Alba makes a burst down the left channel and aims to send a ball in early for the run of Suarez, leaving Gabriel to get across and make a smart interception at the front post.
SHOT! Yet more brilliance from Messi, who collects the ball on the edge of the box and jinks his way inside the area. The Argentine continues to move out towards the edge of the box before lashing an effort into the side of the net.
Valencia share a bright spell of possession inside the Barcelona half and you might argue it's their most prolonged spell of the game. Barca are happy to stand off at the moment.
SHOT! Parejo has been virtually anonymous in this contest but he finally gets the chance to break forward with the ball. The playmaker finds space on the edge of the Barca box, although Cillessen gets down low quickly and is equal to his effort.
YELLOW CARD! Another yellow now for Valencia as Soler goes into the back of Iniesta, leaving Barcelona with the chance to deliver into the middle. Fortunately for the away side, the teasing delivery is cleared for a corner.
Still plenty of the ball for Barca but no real cutting edge just yet in this second half. Coutinho is now warming up on the sidelines and looks set to enter the fray shortly.
SUBSTITUTE: Here we go then, Coutinho is introduced to huge cheers from the crowd. The former Liverpool man replaces Vidal in midfield.
Valencia are continuing to keep their shape nice and narrow when Barcelona come forward. The visitors have done a fantastic job of stifling their opponents. Valencia's concentration at the back has been remarkable here.
SHOT! Vezo produces a clumsy challenge on the edge of the area, leaving Messi with the chance to go for goal from the set-piece. Domenech does well to get a strong fist on the effort, though, leaving his defenders to clear the rebound.
CLOSE! Suarez almost wriggles through past his marker to find himself one-on-one with Domenech, but the linesman flags for a foul much to the frustration of the Barca frontman.
GOAL! BARCELONA 1-0 VALENCIA (LUIS SUAREZ)
They finally have the lead that their dominance have deserved... Much of the credit should go to Messi, who has the beating of two men inside the Valencia area. The Argentine gets his head up and then picks out a cross into the middle of the box, where Suarez drifts from his markers and is able to divert a diving header high into the net in order to beat a leaping Maya on the line. Huge questions for Valencia now!
The context of this clash has changed dramatically for Valencia now and they will find themselves asking whether or not they should go for the leveller, or look to protect themselves from going home with a anything more than a one-goal deficit.
SHOT Coutinho is almost on the scoresheet with his first goal for the club, but Domenech pulls off a smart save down low to keep out the Brazilian's side-footed effort from the edge of the box.
CLOSE! The hosts really want that second to take into the second leg now and they almost grab it through Messi's free kick. Domenech looks beaten but the bending effort sails just over the crossbar.
More wonderful stuff on display as Suarez, Messi and Coutinho look to show everyone a developing partnership. Coutinho produces some bewildering skill before chipping the ball into Suarez, who lays it off with a deft touch first time into Messi. The Argentine then opens up his body, only to see his shot cannon off Montoya for a corner.
We're into the final 10 minutes? Can Valencia hold out and at least have something of a contest to compete in on home soil next week? The visitors have not looked like scoring, but going back to the Mestalla just one goal behind would leave them with a chance of putting up a fight.
Still Barca continue to push for the second, but Valencia are still holding firm here. Messi goes close with another bending effort, but the ball rolls just wide of the post with Domenech scrambling.
CLOSE! What a moment this could have been in the game. Mina almost catches Barcelona cold, leaving Cillessen to race off his line and make a vital clearance at the feet of the Valencia striker.
We're going to have three minutes of additional time...
FULL TIME: BARCELONA 1-0 VALENCIA
The referee calls time on the game and it's Barcelona who take an advantage into the second leg next week. The hosts will be pleased with the result, although their dominance might have just deserved another goal. Given the way Valencia set themselves up here, the visitors might not be too disheartened by facing just a one-goal deficit on home soil. That's going to be all from me tonight, make sure you join us again next week for the conclusion of this semi-final at the Mestalla Stadium.