Rayo Vallecano 1 Barcelona 2: Messi back from ban to spare Barca blushes in comeback win over second-tier opponents

LIONEL MESSI returned as Barcelona narrowly avoided becoming the latest big cupset of this year's crazy Copa del Rey.

After Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid were knocked out by third-tier opposition, the cup appears to be Ronald Koeman's best route to silverware.

The Dutchman put out a strong team for the last-16 trip to Rayo Vallecano, featuring Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Messi.

It was the forward's first game since a first sending off of his club career, earning a two-game ban for lashing out at an opponent in the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Club.

Despite dominating possession, the Catalans fell behind at Estadio de Vallecas on the hour mark.

Fancy footwork from Alvaro Garcia led to Neto flapping at a cross and Real Madrid loanee Fran Garcia tapped home Rayo's opener.

Barcelona were faced with being the ELEVENTH LaLiga side dumped out by lower-tier opposition in this year's Copa but rallied against their Segunda Division opponents.

Frenkie de Jong played Griezmann through and the Frenchman crossed for Messi to tap home the leveller.

Either side of his ban, the 33-year-old now has five goals in his last four games.

A carbon copy of the equaliser put Barcelona ahead with ten minutes left on the clock.

This time it was Jordi Alba breaking down the left from Messi's pass and de Jong steadied himself to net the winner.

Blaugrana boss Koeman praised his side's response to a long, tough month ahead of Friday's quarter-final draw.

I think it has been a very tough month. The team has shown its mentality.

He told reporters: "I think it has been a very tough month, with many away games and many trips.

"It has been eight games. The team has shown its mentality to face this difficult month.

"We deserved to win games. We got a lot of points.

"Too bad about the Supercopa final. In LaLiga we have recovered our best level."

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