Munir El Haddadi’s brace separated Espanyol and Barcelona in Wednesday Copa del Rey last-16 second leg as the Catalans secured a 6-1 aggregate to progress to the quarter finals of the competition.
Gerard Pique and Neymar’s places were filled by Thomas Vermaelen and Munir El Haddadi, as FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Messi moved into the centre and Aleix Vidal to the right wing in light of Luis Suarez’s ban.
Elsewhere, there was no Jordi Alba in the matchday squad, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen, as usual for cup games, was named between the sticks.
Espanyol, meanwhile, gave only a second and third appearance of the season to goalkeeper Francesco Bardi and centre-back Michael Ciani respectively.
Espanyol flew off the blocks without creating any clear-cut chances, allowing Barca to slowly – but surely – take the initiative, with Messi at the heart of their attacking play.
It then became a matter of time before Barca took the lead, and Messi – having already had two shots saved by Bardi – slipped Munir in behind for the youngster to round the Italian and tap into an empty net.
Like in the first half, the pace of the match slowed during the second stanza and by the final 20 minutes there was a noticeable lack of energy among the 22 players on the pitch. There was another slight scare for Barcelona when Messi was taken down by Espanyol defender Victor Álvarez in the 79th minute, but the Argentine got to his feet moments later and appeared to be fine.
Barcelona then added a late goal in the 88th minute to cap off the match, with Turan dishing to Vidal whose cross allowed an easy tap-in for Munir to make it 2-0 in the match and 6-1 on aggregate.Fortunately for Luis Enrique, the match ended without any further incidents or injuries, as Barcelona took another step toward defending their Copa crown. Barcelona will return to La Liga action on Sunday with a home date versus Athletic Bilbao.