Barcelona booked their spot in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday following a 3-0 win in the second leg of their tie against Levante. Ousmane Dembele scored twice, and that was more than enough to overturn a first-leg loss with a 4-2 aggregate score.
The visitors employed a cautious approach but ran into a first-half double from Dembele, although Barcelona could have scored a lot more. Lionel Messi all but secured passage to the next round after the break with a goal of his own.
Levante had won the first leg 2-1, but there was controversy surrounding the result of that match. Chumi played for Barcelona despite being suspended for Barcelona B, and Levante plan to make a formal complaint:
Barcelona's Tactical Performance Proves They Don't Need January Forward Help
If there's one thing manager Ernesto Valverde should take away from Thursday's performance, it's the theory that the need for more attacking reinforcements has been overblown.
Luis Suarez started from the bench against Levante, moving Messi into a false-nine role with Dembele and Philippe Coutinho flanking him. The tactic worked wonders, as it usually does when Messi plays through the centre, and the first-leg deficit was erased in one half of football. The visitors were lucky only to be down 2-0 at half-time.
The Catalans have been linked with several forwards already in January, including long-time target Willian:
The Brazilian's Chelsea team-mate Alvaro Morata has also been mentioned as a possibility:
But with Coutinho slowly returning to form after a difficult spell and Dembele seemingly improving with every match, there really is no need to spend big on another forward. Messi does some of his best work as a false-nine, so having him play there more often in order to rest Suarez should be the way forward.
By saving their money in January, Barcelona could go after some more expensive targets in the summer. The Ajax duo of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt continue to be linked to the Blaugrana, and even the Dutch club's sporting director Marc Overmars has named Barca as favourites to land them, per AS.
Arthur's improving form in midfield means Coutinho could play more minutes further up the pitch, where he is at his best. And while Malcom's playing time has been limited so far, he remains an intriguing talent deserving of opportunities.
Add to that the talents playing for Barcelona B―Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez should get their chances in the second half of the season―and there's no need to spend big money on another forward in January.
Copa del Rey Format Needs to Change
With the win, Barcelona remain on track for their fifth consecutive Copa del Rey triumph, despite the first-leg scare.
While that's a tremendous result for the Catalans, it speaks to the one-sided nature of this tournament. You have to go back more than a decade to find the last time a side that's not a member of La Liga's bigger clubs won it―Espanyol in 2006―and it's been nine years since someone other than Barcelona, Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid won it.
Faced with a one-goal deficit Valverde opted to start Messi, Dembele and several other stars, and Levante predictably closed up shop and hoped they could repel the Blaugrana onslaught for 90 minutes. They didn't open up until after they had conceded twice, per AS' Robbie Dunne:
Cup competitions are supposed to be unpredictable, with minnows from the lower divisions making the occasional run and La Liga's smaller clubs vying for silverware. The top sides active in Europe have to balance whether to rest their starters or not, and that, in turn, leads to results like last week's first leg.
But by introducing a second leg all of the unpredictability goes out of the window. Major upsets are scarce, with clubs from the lower leagues rarely giving it their all knowing they're that much more unlikely to shock their opponents over 180 minutes.
Even the elite clubs hardly benefit, as the two-legged nature crowds the fixture calendar. They regard the tournament as far less important than La Liga or the Champions League and routinely play several players from academy teams in the first legs.
It's time to switch the formula and extend the single matches all the way. It will make for a far more exciting tournament, where smaller clubs have a better chance to knock out the big boys.
Barcelona host Leganes on Sunday, while Levante host Real Valladolid on the same day.