Barcelona will take a narrow aggregate lead into the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final later this month after securing a 1-0 win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Thursday night.
It was a distinctly functional performance from Xavi’s team rather than the kind of vintage Barça he himself once played in. But it mattered little in the end, with an Eder Militao own goal in the first half deciding the opening 90 minutes of the tie.
Real threatened to go ahead inside the first minute when Luka Modric sprinted forward like someone much younger than 37. But as Jules Kounde came back at him, the veteran Croatian could only lash high into the side netting from a narrowing angle.
Karim Benzema did have the ball in the net before Barcelona took the lead, controlling it on his chest and swivelling to volley in all in one fluid motion. However, the offside flag correctly denied him what would have been a very fine goal.
Sloppiness on the ball from Eduardo Camavinga helped give the Catalans their lead midway through the first half. There was still work to do and Ferran Torres fed Franck Kessie, whose shot was saved by Thibaut Courtois but rebounded into the net off Militao. It was initially threatened with an offside flag, with VAR confirming that Kessie was indeed onside when the ball was played.
Dani Carvajal had a reasonable chance shortly before half-time, connecting at the far post with a diagonal Toni Kroos cross but unable to control the ambitious volley on target. Valverde also tried to deceive Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a disguised cross – the Barça goalkeeper didn’t fall for it.
Ronald Araujo was deployed at right-back to stop Vinicius Junior any way he could and pulled out an excellent block to stop the Brazilian getting a potential equaliser soon after the restart. The Barcelona defender was generally sticking to his man like glue.
Barça successfully weathered a storm from the home side as the hour mark came and went without ever really giving up clear chances – Araujo and Kounde in particular defended exceptionally well. But they were also growing in confidence too and another Torres-Kessie combination should have doubled the lead. A cutback to the latter produced a low finish destined for the bottom corner, only for it to strike substitute Ansu Fati and deflect wide. Kessie was in disbelief.
Real sub Rodrygo had Ter Stegen worried enough in the final seconds of the 90 to dive across his goal in pursuit of a rasping drive. In the end it was off target and ultimately summed up their night.
GK: Thibaut Courtois – 6/10 – Did well to save the first attempt from Kessie. Not that invovled overall.
RB: Dani Carvajal – 5/10 – Occupied a really high position on the right, not that he did much.
CB: Eder Militao – 6/10 – Didn’t have time to readjust his legs as the ball came back at him when Courtois saved Kessie’s initial shot. Defended well in general.
CB: Antonio Rudiger – 6/10 – Barcelona didn’t put together many attacks so most of the game was played in front of him.
LB: Nacho – 5/10 – Took a swing at trying to clear the first half goal and couldn’t connect. Sacrificed for tacital reasons midway through the second half.
CM: Eduardo Camavinga – 6/10 – Culpable for Barcelona’s first half goal with sloppy play. Disappointing because he had plenty of energy and otherwise did well.
CM: Luka Modric – 5/10 – Kicked out in the first half and looked frustrated. Had an early chance to score but missed the target from a decent position.
CM: Toni Kroos – 5/10 – Passed the ball a lot without achieving or creating that much.
RW: Federico Valverde – 6/10 – Always looking to probe and create chances. Didn’t quite happen.
ST: Karim Benzema – 6/10 – Had the ball in the net with a sublime volley, only to see a flag up. Didn’t have the service he would have wanted after that.
LW: Vinicius Junior – 6/10 – Showed promise but never got the better of Araujo.
SUB: Rodrygo (67′ for Nacho) – 5/10
SUB: Aurelien Tchouameni (74′ for Kroos) – 5/10
SUB: Alvaro Rodriguez (84′ for Modric) – N/A
Carlo Ancelotti – 5/10 – His side didn’t seem to have the right creativity but there were no decisive solutions from the boss.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 8/10 – Really calming and always in control of every situation.
RB: Ronald Araujo – 9/10 – Pushed to the right, seemingly in an attempt to combat the pace and agility of Vinicius. Won that battle every time.
CB: Jules Kounde – 9/10 – Defensive performance of the highest order.
CB: Marcos Alonso – 7/10 – Repelled everything that came his way.
LB: Alejandro Balde – 7/10 – Limited the danger that came from his side.
CM: Franck Kessie – 7/10 – Made the breakthrough goal possible with a driving run from deep.
CM: Sergo Busquets (c) – 7/10 – Held things together in midfield and led by example.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 7/10 – Needed to give a disciplined display and did.
RW: Raphinha – 6/10 – Offered a danger on the break, but was carrying a yellow card and seemed a little leggy after the break.
ST: Ferran Torres – 7/10 – Didn’t see loads of the ball but made good use of it when he did. Created the first half goal and almost assisted a second later on.
LW: Gavi – 7/10 – Involved in some pushing and shoving in the second half. Worked hard and put himself about to try and disrupt Real, which was important.
SUB: Ansu Fati (69′ for Raphinha) – 5/10
SUB: Sergi Roberto (86′ for Kessie) – N/A
Xavi – 8/10 – It wasn’t pretty but his player knews their jobs and excecuted them perfectly.