Barca close in on Copa final

Barcelona took control of their Copa del Rey semi-final with Villarreal on Wednesday following a 3-1 victory in the first leg at Camp Nou.

Rafinha, Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic combined to form a new-look midfield, while usual cup goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen replaced Claudio Bravo between the sticks. Up top, attacking triumvirate Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar retained their places.

Villarreal, meanwhile, made seven changes for the trip to Catalonia, with big boys Denis Cheryshev, Luciano Vietto and Dos Santos brothers Giovani and Jonathan, both formerly of Barca, all back for the Yellow Submarine.

Both sides’ last meeting came less than a fortnight ago, when the Catalans emerged with a 3-2 victory in La Liga.

Barca started the most positively, dominating possession from the outset, while Villarreal were happy to sit back and counter, but it made for a surplus of action in either box.

La Blaugrana thought they had taken the lead through Jeremy Mathieu, who slid the ball home, but the defender was correctly adjudged offside, but they eventually made the breakthrough on the cusp of half-time.

Having spurned numerous shooting opportunities, Messi was found in the box by Suarez, who capitalised on Mateo Musacchio’s unforgivable lunge into thin air, and the No 10, with the entire net to aim at, routinely swept the ball home.

There was then a scramble of late chances at the end of the first half as Suarez failed to tuck away two square balls from Messi across the face of goal, before Vietto forced Ter Stegen into a fingertip save from Cheryshev’s low cross.

However, Barca were shellshocked in the opening stages of the restart, when Manuel Trigueros smashed an attempt on target from distance, which skimmed the gloves of Ter Stegen and rocketed into the top-left corner.

Nonetheless, the hosts did not take long to respond as Suarez danced into the opposing box and played in Iniesta, who coolly placed his finish beyond Asenjo.

Barca’s first-leg advantage was then secure shortly beyond the hour mark, Gerard Pique ghosting in behind at the back post to shake off Musacchio and crash a header past the former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper.

It could have been even better for Luis Enrique’s side, when Musacchio’s bad evening was compounded with a debatable handball in his own box, but Neymar failed to make it four from the penalty spot.

Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal

Messi 41, Iniesta 49, Pique 64 (B) Trigueros 48 (V)

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Rafinha (Rakitic 68), Mascherano, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz, Costa; Jonathan (Rukavina 50), Pina, Bruno (Trigueros 33), Cheryshev (Gomez 73); Giovani, Vietto

Referee: Hernandez Hernandez