Barcelona took on Real Madrid on Thursday night hoping to put an end to their two-game losing streak. Playing in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal, the aim was clear- to get a favourable away result on the night.
With three of his key players unavailable on the night, a lot rode on Xavi Hernandez’s choice of personnel on the night.
The manager placed Marc Andre Ter Stegen in goal with Marcos Alonso and Jules Kounde in central defence. Notably, Andreas Christensen was unavailable through fitness troubles. Alejandro Balde and Ronald Araujo took their positions as the left and right-back respectively.
Franck Kessie, Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong were deployed in midfield. In the final third, Raphinha started on the left wing with Gavi out on the right. Ferran Torres played through the centre as the striker.
The game began like any Clasico would, Barcelona with the possession but Real Madrid with the scanty, yet nervy, possession. Truth be told, it was Ancelotti’s side that had significantly better chances in the opening period.
Just ten minutes into the game, a Vini Jr cross found Karim Benzema lurking in the box and the Frenchman ruthlessly volleyed it past Ter Stegen. However, the goal was ruled out for a minor offside.
Yet, the Merengues’ chances kept coming and the corner kicks flowed their way. It was evident that Barcelona were lagging behind in quality.
Almost against the run of play, Barcelona took the lead in the 25th minute. The move stemmed from Camavinga’s poor pass that gave the ball away and it did not take long for Torres to send it Kessie’s way.
Though initially ruled out for offside, it became clear that Raphinha had no part to play in the goal and the ricocheted ball found itself in the back of the net after touching Eder Militao.
Barcelona were forced to switch to a slightly defensive mood after taking the lead as the freshly pumped hosts searched for an equaliser. The game went one notch up in intensity and aggression.
Xavi’s men recovered their defensive stability soon enough and played a more evenly balanced game on Real Madrid’s counters. At the other end, the Blaugrana created a massive chance in the 37th minute on the break themselves as Gavi’s pass missed Raphinha by a whisker.
The hosts got a big chance with five minutes left in the half when Carvajal received a fine cross-field cross. However, his volley first-time went wayward.
Heading into the halftime tunnel, Xavi’s men were the clearly happier side, albeit not better. Real Madrid’s mistakes had given them a healthy away lead, and 45 minutes stood between them and a good result at Santiago Bernabeu.
The European Champions started the second half on the front foot, putting pressure on Barcelona’s defence and asking repeated questions. Valverde’s cutback found Vinicius in a dangerous position but Ronald Araujo’s spectacular tackle left him with no chance.
Akin to the opening half, Barcelona regained control of the game ten minutes after the restart with better spells of possession. The defence stayed compact and Ter Stegen was solid with a special full-stretch save in the 57th minute.
Raphinha had a great chance to assist Ferran Torres for a sure-shot second goal but slightly overhit his pass in the 68th minute. Seconds later, he went off for Ansu Fati.
The 71st minute brought a glorious chance for the visitors when Torres’ cutback found Kessie in a great position. The midfielder’s shot was headed in but Ansu Fati blocked the shot.
As the game neared its final minutes, the possession dynamic completely shifted in favour of the hosts. The Catalans were left to do the defensive work while Real Madrid persistently pressed in the attack.
Sergi Roberto came on for Franck Kessie in the 86th minute.
Five minutes were added on but there was nothing Real Madrid could do to get past Barcelona’s tight defence. It was Barcelona who celebrated at the end of 90 minutes, taking a solid one-goal lead into the home leg where in theory, they should have their best players back.