Cesc Fabregas scored one goal and set up another as Barcelona beat Valencia 2-0 on Wednesday to advance to the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.
Lionel Messi lobbed a long pass that Fabregas chased down and deftly chipped over goalkeeper Diego Alves for Barcelona’s 15th-minute opener and after Sofiane Feghouli left Valencia with 10 men late on after receiving his second booking, Fabregas set up Xavi Hernandez to send Barcelona through 3-1 on aggregate.
The final will pit the two most successful teams in the competition. Barcelona will look to add to their record 25 titles on May 25, while Bilbao will aim to avenge their 2009 final loss to the Catalans that denied the club a 24th title.
“I believe it will be a final that dignifies the competition,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. “It’s a final between the two teams with the most tradition in the Copa and I believe it will be a fascinating game.”
It will be Barcelona’s third Copa del Rey final in four seasons under Guardiola and it will give the European champions a chance to make up for last year’s loss to Real Madrid.
“We are very happy to be in the final again, and for those who thought my players were tired or complacent from so much winning ... I insist, reaching three finals in four years has a lot of merit,” Guardiola said.
Valencia received a setback just before kickoff when leading scorer Roberto Soldado was ruled unfit to play because of the flu. He was replaced by Basque striker Aritz Aduriz up front.
Barcelona, meanwhile, received a boost from the return of Xavi and Alexis Sanchez to the starting 11 and Andres Iniesta to the bench, while Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara again filled in for the injured Pedro Rodriguez and Sergio Busquets.
Valencia had most of the possession for the first 10 minutes and they made all the attacking plays at Camp Nou, but Messi soon turned the flow of the game in the 15th minute, lobbing a long-range pass from the other side of the halfway line for Fabregas to run down and lift over Diego Alves.
It was Fabregas’ 15th goal of the season in all competitions. At this pace, he should have little trouble breaking his season-best tally of 19 from his time at Arsenal.
“This team has earned enough credit for people to believe in us,” Fabregas said. “We have tremendous confidence in ourselves and that comes from Pep. He is our leader and we follow.”
Back in control, the Catalan giants settled into Valencia’s territory, with Fabregas testing Diego Alves with a pair of strikes from inside the box before halftime.
Valencia caught Barcelona flatfooted after the restart, though, with winger Jordi Alba and Aduriz drawing good saves from goalkeeper Jose Pinto.
Again it was Messi who put Barcelona back in charge, first firing a shot off a defender that hit the crossbar, then showing a lightning-fast change of foot to squirm through three defenders and flick a shot that Diego Alves dived to parry.
Feghouli left Valencia a man down in the 76th minute and Fabregas rolled Alexis’ low cross over to an unmarked Xavi on the right side for his Spain teammate to blast into the left corner of the net in the 81st minute and seal the tie.