In the last game of his third and final season as manager of Barcelona, Luis Enrique won his ninth piece of silverware with the Catalan club. Thanks to the enduring and indomitable genius of Lionel Messi, Barca comfortably rolled over Alaves 3-1 at the Vicente Calderon, which lived through its own finale, as the iconic stadium in Madrid will be demolished soon.
The Copa del Rey final saw to it that the departing manager won the tournament in each of his three campaigns in charge. He won La Liga twice. The Champions League once. The Club World Cup once. The Supercopa de Espana once. The European Super Cup once. He also posted a winning percentage of more than 75, with 138 wins, 21 losses and 22 ties. Yet, somehow, this last year has been a letdown, with just one trophy.
By Barca’s otherworldly standards, that’s a bad year. And so it felt unsurprising that Luis Enrique announced his departure a few months before the season was even over. He’d not entirely delivered this year. And in the Catalan capital, you don’t get to have disappointing years. There’s no rebuilding, let alone building. Only winning. Or, failing that, a firing.
Was Luis Enrique about to be fired? Technically, probably not, since his contract was running out anyway. But there were real questions over whether he’d be brought back. Few managers leave Barcelona on their own terms. He pre-empted that discussion by declaring himself burned out and leaving of his own volition.
He goes out on something of a high with the club’s record-extending 29th Copa del Rey secured. Alaves gave good sport, but a Messi goal, an assist and a third goal created by the Argentine were too much for the Basques to contend with, no matter how beautiful Theo Hernandez’s free-kick goal was.
Alaves unfurled a fairly rudimentary but also entirely coherent approach of just fouling Barca players early on. Fouling them, and fouling them hard. And it very nearly paid off for the ninth-place La Liga finishers.
In the 27th minute, Gerard Pique committed a woeful turnover on the ball outside his box under some pressure. Ibai Gomez scurried off with it and whipped a shot at Jasper Cillessen’s near post. The Dutch goalkeeper let the ball slither under him, hit the frame, bounce back off him and spin parallel to the goal line, without ever crossing it.
What a finish by Messi in the cupfinalpic.twitter.com/gGZKPBKwlf
— new account (@BUSQXETS1) May 27, 2017
Lionel Messi has now scored 26 goals in 25 finals (including the Supercopa de España) for Barcelona.
Ridiculous record. ???? pic.twitter.com/joUzTD2qGB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 27, 2017
Alaves would equalize in short order, though. The Real Madrid-bound Hernandez lifted a free kick well over the pack, out of the reach of Cillessen and into the far upper-90.
Golazo tremendo de Theo Hernández para el Alavés. Golpeo espectacular a la escuadra del palo largo. Cillessen, mal colocado, también ayuda. pic.twitter.com/eSjbASTRpS
— Álex Martínez (@Alex14Official) May 27, 2017
Before halftime, however, Barca would put the game away. Messi found the overlapping Andre Gomes up the right, who hit it square. Paco Alcacer couldn’t connect with it, so Neymar tapped it in from inches over the line instead.
— R. (@FCBipolar) May 27, 2017
Was he offside? Maybe? Probably?
— M•A•J (@UltraSuristic_) May 27, 2017
Deep in first-half injury time, Alcacer made it 3-1. Messi undertook, well, a Messian run through the defense before setting the striker free, who finished well.
— EMN (@EMN) May 27, 2017
Now, behind by two goals in the second half, Alaves tried to make a game of it after Pacheco denied Alcacer another. But Gomes blocked Gomez’s shot, presumably not because of a disagreement over the spelling of their last names. And Deyverson had a goal ruled offside.
There were outsized celebrations for Barcelona after the final whistle. Some high fives and hugs and the like. But there was no ecstasy, no overwhelming joy. Another trophy to be put in some lobby of the Camp Nou is nice. Yet it’s just as nice that this troubled campaign is over and that Barca gets to start over in a few months, with new ideas and new opportunities for glory. With a new manager.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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