The return of the king! Messi reclaims Barcelona’s Copa crown on a perfect night for Koeman & Laporta

Barcelona 4-0 Athletic Club: Match Statistics

Joan Laporta’s beaming smile was still somehow visible from behind his face mask, as Barcelona’s proud new president watched his side pick up the first trophy of his second reign on a huge night for the club in Seville.

Lionel Messi struck twice, after goals from Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, as the Catalans routed Athletic Club 4-0 to claim a record 31st Copa del Rey, and their first since seeing their bid for five in a row ended by Valencia in 2019.

But this is the king’s cup and it belongs to Barcelona once again – or perhaps more accurately, Messi.

The majestic Argentine put on a regal showing, bouncing back from last weekend’s disappointing Clasico display by becoming the all-time record goalscorer in Copa finals, with 10, as he lifted the trophy for a seventh time.

This was an excellent team performance, though. Barca didn’t just add another trophy to their vast collection; they put on an exhibition of force which bodes well for the remainder of their Liga title challenge – and beyond.

While Atletico Madrid are crumbling and Real Madrid have an ever-shrinking squad, Barcelona showed they are already over their Clasico setback, which could have been a huge morale blow and sent the cash-strapped club into a spiral.

Under-fire Ronald Koeman kept faith in his 3-5-2 system and made some bold selection calls which paid off as the Catalans beat their Basque opponents in similar style to their 2015 cup final victory over Athletic at Camp Nou.

Gerard Pique came in for Ronald Araujo, after the Uruguayan’s sluggish display at Real Madrid, and the Spaniard excelled despite only playing one game in the last seven weeks.

That was the impressive semi-final comeback against Sevilla, and he was equally impressive here, twice holding his own against Inaki Williams in one-on-one situations.

The Athletic striker famously burned past Pique and left him eating dust in a match between the sides a little over a year ago, but there was only one winner here.

Griezmann was Koeman’s other gamble, with the forward selected ahead of compatriot Ousmane Dembele, and it proved a good call, despite a big miss from the French forward with the score at 0-0.

The former Atletico man picked himself up and managed to break the deadlock, turning home Frenkie de Jong’s cross.

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Koeman wasn’t the only Dutchman to come out of the clash looking good, with Laporta watching on.

The coach showed, at last, that he could guide Barcelona to victory in a big game – and an emphatic victory at that – while versatile Netherlands international De Jong proved he belongs in his favoured midfield role.

Bought initially to fill the Sergio Busquets position, De Jong has thrived playing further forward, like he did against Athletic, grabbing a goal and two assists.

In recent weeks, though, he had been forced back into defence because of injuries elsewhere, but, in future, that should only ever be an emergency measure. He just has too much to offer from an offensive perspective.

After creating the opener for Griezmann, De Jong stooped to head home the second, from Jordi Alba’s expertly teased cross, before Messi took over.

The attacker’s first goal recalled his 2015 solo masterpiece against Athletic, except this time he played a one-two with De Jong in the build-up.

At 33, Messi can’t do it all by himself anymore and needs team-mates on his wavelength. This victory was about proving to him that he still has a stellar supporting cast at Barcelona; that these colleagues are not just talented, but mentally strong too.

Barcelona have cracked in big games this season and the youngsters in the team, like Oscar Mingueza and Pedri Gonzalez, stepped up to the mark here. They can become the players Messi needs by his side in the coming seasons.

The gifted No.10 has not yet decided if his future lies at Barcelona beyond this summer, when his contract expires, but this victory will have increased the prospect of him staying.

It was a triumph that suggested something is brewing at Barcelona. They have found themselves again, even if they are not yet ready to battle with Europe’s elite, as underlined by their Champions League knockout at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.

This, though, was an evening where it all went right for Barcelona, the kind of night where the painful defeats of recent years kind of melted away, ending with the ticker tape fluttering into the sky and Messi holding yet another trophy.

No wonder Laporta was grinning from ear to ear beneath that mask.

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