Barcelona eased into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as Munir El Haddadi’s brace defeated Espanyol 2-0 on Wednesday and 6-1 on aggregate in the last 16.
Gerard Pique and Neymar’s places were filled by Thomas Vermaelen and Munir El Haddadi, as FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Messi moved into the centre and Aleix Vidal to the right wing in light of Luis Suarez’s ban.
Elsewhere, there was no Jordi Alba in the matchday squad, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen, as usual for cup games, was named between the sticks.
Espanyol, meanwhile, gave only a second and third appearance of the season to goalkeeper Francesco Bardi and centre-back Michael Ciani respectively.
Coaches Luis Enrique and Constantin Galca met before the game, in a bid to diffuse tensions, which overshadowed the Catalan rivals’ last two encounters, but there was more of the same at Cornella-El Prat, albeit at a lower scale.
Espanyol flew off the blocks without creating any clear-cut chances, allowing Barca to slowly – but surely – take the initiative, with Messi at the heart of their attacking play.
It then became a matter of time before Barca took the lead, and Messi – having already had two shots saved by Bardi – slipped Munir in behind for the youngster to round the Italian and tap into an empty net.
Espanyol responded strongly through Felipe Caicedo, but his lob over Ter Stegen was too high, while he could only drag a one-on-one into the goalkeeper’s arms and was dispossessed by his opponent’s perfectly-timed sliding challenge.
It allowed Barca to dominate the final half-hour, in turn prompting a cynical approach from the hosts, and the win was sealed with just minutes remaining, Arda playing in Vidal down the right and the full-back cutting the ball back for Munir’s second goal of the evening.
Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona (1-6 agg.)
Munir 32, 88
Espanyol: Bardi; Rober, Ciani, Alvaro, Duarte; Jordan, Sevilla (Mamadou 68), Abraham (Gerard 79); Burgui (Montanes 55), Caicedo, Asensio
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Mascherano, Vermaelen (Bartra 58), Mathieu; Sergi (Adriano 58), Rakitic, Arda; Vidal, Messi, Munir
Referee: Fernandez Borbalan