Barcelona reached the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday courtesy of a 2-1 victory at Villarreal, tarnished by a possible injury to Sergio Busquets.
Victor Ruiz, Mateo Musacchio, Jonathan dos Santos, Denis Cheryshev, Trigueros, Luciano Vietto and Ikechuwku Uche were the seven new faces welcomed into the Yellow Submarine fold from last weekend’s draw at Real Madrid.
Similarly, the Catalans handed out starts to six personnel who didn’t start the 3-1 win against Granada in Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Martin Montoya, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Rafinha and Andres Iniesta.
Barca led Villarreal 3-1 on aggregate courtesy of their first-leg victory three weeks ago but could still progress with a defeat this evening, providing they lose by just one or score more away goals.
The first half saw the hosts keen to impose their attacking game on La Blaugrana, who preferred to play on the break, meaning chances mostly fell in the Barca box, although Cheryshev fluffed a succession of shooting opportunities.
However, it was Barca who looked to have put the tie out of Villarreal’s sight after just three minutes. Luis Suarez escaped down the left-hand side and squared the ball to Lionel Messi, who in turn fed Neymar in the box for a lobbed finish.
Nonetheless, Marcelino’s troops refused to cave in and found the equaliser through Jonathan, the former Barca starlet meeting Jaume Costa’s pinpoint delivery at the far post to leave his side just two goals away from a shock turnaround.
Barca then suffered a further blow as Busquets was stretchered off shortly before half-time, his ankle absorbing the full weight of Tomas Pina’s studs and buckling, although no malicious intent was on the former Mallorca man’s part.
The restart promised much, with both teams cranking up the intensity, although Villarreal would have been kicking themselves after they failed to carve out any clear openings.
However, the match experienced a turning point just after the hour mark, when Pina – already guilty of a bad tackle on Busquets, which went unpunished – lunged into Neymar with two feet and was subsequently shown a straight red card for his troubles.
It gifted Barca the momentum, and with little over 15 minutes remaining, Javier Mascheran’s perfectly-clipped through ball dropped to the feet of Suarez, who shifted past Sergio Asenjo and applied the finish into an empty.
Luis Enrique’s men then brought down the curtains on the tie for the last time, Xavi Hernandez picking out Neymar in the area with a swirling cross, which the Brazilian headed past the helpless goalkeeper to keep Barca in with the chance of a 27th Copa.
HT: Villarreal 1-3 Barcelona (2-6 agg.)
Jonathan 39 (V) Neymar 3, 88, Suarez 73 (B) Pina sent off 65
Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz, Costa; Pina, Trigueros (Gomez 75), Jonathan, Cheryshev (Campbell 69); Vietto, Uche (Giovani 62)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Montoya, Pique, Mascherano (Rakitic 75), Alba; Busquets (Mathieu 42), Rafinha (Xavi 65), Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Referee: Fernandez Borbalan