If Málaga proved last Saturday that it’s possible to compete against Barcelona by pressuring them high, Athletic Club have done the same in the Camp Nou with the added difficulty that entails. The visiting team benefited from the lack of creativity in the culé midfield – without Busquets and Iniesta – and from Vermaelen’s and Mathieu’s hesitation when trying to overcome the lines of pressure. Athletic pushed on Barça’s area helped by a tough midfield with San José, Mikel Rico and Eraso.

Despite Vermaelen’s disallowed goal for a foul in his jump, Valverde’s ranks dominated the match from the kickoff, making Rakitic’s defensive coverages essential. But Athletic has Aduriz who is playing better and better each day, and after a great ball control, he made a wonderful through pass to Iñaki Williams, whose diagonal movement and speed beat both Mathieu and ter Stegen.

The Basques' dominance was reflected in a zonal marking. It was a coordinated pressure except on one midfielder, sometimes Rakitic, other times Sergi Roberto. Barcelona did not have the required patience to look for this possible open player...and Busquets was on the bench. In every zone there seemed to be an extra Basque footballer. The only offensive solution was the long pass to Neymar or Suárez.

As it happened against Málaga, Barcelona improved significantly in the second half. Without doing anything remarkable, they matched Athletic’s intensity with the ball and they had in Neymar the lighthouse that switched on when the ideas faded away. The Brazilian’s outstanding performance always had an extra dribble, bustling in the conductions despite having other passing or shooting options. The one who made a brilliant pass was Sergi Roberto in order to find Messi inside the area, who assisted Suárez for the equalizer. The visiting team’s attitude was praiseworthy. Despite an ever increasing separation in their lines and arriving late to defensive coverages due to the physical and mental weariness, Valverde’s footballers continued to attack Barcelona’s goal.

The dominance was now on Barcelona’s side, yet they were not entirely comfortable. Busquets came on to the pitch to manage the possession better and Beñat and Muniain were subbed in for Athletic. The local team's greater individual quality made Herrerín the savior over and over again, but he could not do anything with Piqué’s and Neymar’s goals. Barcelona have reached their sixth straight semifinal in the Spanish Cup and their ninth in the last 10 seasons. The Blaugrana cycle is more historical if that is even possible, because of its duration.

And Neymar. Surrounded by the rumors and the fictitious noise about his contract renewal, he continues to play football and embrace the leadership. His constant evolution is the best of all the good news.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Ismael Ledesma.