With all eyes from across Europe falling on the Bernabeu on Thursday night, Barcelona opened their Copa del Rey semi-final adventure with a 1-0 victory against Real Madrid.
While many were expecting Los Blancos to claim what could have been a crucial first-leg advantage on home soil, Eder Militao’s first-half own-goal proved costly as Madrid watched their six-match unbeaten run come to an abrupt end.
Although Barcelona might have been without a host of first-team stars that included the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, Xai’s young squad put in another gritty display here.
Still holding a seven-point buffer at the top of the La Liga table and already claiming this year’s Spanish Super Cup thanks to a 3-1 romp against their historic rivals back on January 15th, Barca couldn’t have wished for a better outcome at the Bernabeu.
Eventually heading back to Catalonia with a 1-0 advantage to show for their troubles, Carlo Ancelotti’s side face a real Copa del Rey struggle when they head to the Nou Camp next month.
In a showdown between two Spanish icons, we have taken a look at the key talking points as Barca laid down another domestic marker in the capital.
A domestic sweep on the cards for Barca?
While Barcelona might have found themselves at the heart of yet another European nightmare last week following their 4-3 aggregate defeat against Manchester United, Xavi’s side will be boosted by a rugged display here.
Despite making the trip to the Bernabeu on Thursday night after suffering a shock 1-0 loss at the hands of Almeria last weekend, the Spanish heavyweights have their sights set on completing a famous domestic sweep in 2023.
Although Barca might be without any form of European competition for the remainder of the season, they do appear to be breezing their way to a first La Liga crown since 2019.
Still holding a commanding seven-point buffer over their arch-rivals and gaining plenty of plaudits from across Spain, Xavi’s young squad have already collected one piece of silverware this year.
Laying down what was a real marker on January 15th as they lifted this season’s Spanish Super Cup thanks to a 3-1 romp against Los Blancos out in the Middle East, Barca now find themselves firmly sat in pole position for a history-making campaign.
Madrid miss the chance to gain a phycological advantage
Mounting a famous Champions League comeback away at Anfield on February 21st as they eventually opened their knockout stage adventure with a 5-2 victory, Real Madrid had been riding a recent wave of momentum.
However, although Los Blancos might have been tipped as a standout pick to gain a first-leg advantage on Thursday night, Ancelotti’s side failed to lay down what could have been a crucial marker.
While the former AC Milan boss might have named a full-strength XI here, the reigning La Liga champions failed to register a single shot on target and will now know that they face a major uphill struggle.
Watching their six-match unbeaten run come to an abrupt end here, Los Blancos will be growing more concerned that they could end the 2022/23 campaign without a piece of domestic silverware to their name.
With it looking like Ancelotti’s side will be seeking a minor miracle if they’re to defend their domestic crown this year, the 63-year-old could face some growing pressure over the coming weeks.
Defensive stability is the backbone of Barca’s domestic success
While Barcelona might have eventually come crashing out of this year’s Europa League following an action-packed 4-3 aggregate defeat against Manchester United last week, Thursday’s guests have gained a reputation in Spain for their defensive steel.
Although Xavi’s side might have failed to show any kind of defensive resolve on the European stage over recent times, Barca’s stability at the back has been crucial in their domestic romp this season.
While former Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso might have once again been forced to play as a central defender here, Barca didn’t allow their arch-rivals to produce a single shot on target throughout the whole 90 minutes.
With the likes of 19-year-old sensation Alejandro Balde really bursting onto the scene since being handed a first-team chance by Xavi this season, the Spanish heavyweights have remarkably shipped just eight La Liga strikes on either side of the World Cup break.
Shipping just a single domestic strike at the Nou Camp this season on what has become a stunning defensive run, Barcelona will be confident of finishing off their Copa del Rey job on April 5th.
Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Nacho, Camavinga, Kroos, Valverde, Modric, Vini Junior, Benzema
Subs: Tchouameni, Alvaro, Rodrygo
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Araujo, Kounde, Alonso, Balde, Kessie, Busquets, De Jong, Raphinha, Torres, Gavi
Subs: Fati, Roberto
Goals: Militao OG (20′)
Yellow Cards: Real Madrid: Valverde, Junior, Nacho – Barcelona: Gavi, Kessie, Raphinha
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: José Luis Munuera Montero