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By Martin Graham | 3rd Mar 2023

Barcelona will go into the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi final match against Real Madrid with a 1-0 advantage after beating their bitter rivals in front of a teeming Santiago Bernabeu.

This marks Xavi Hernandez’s third win over Real Madrid in five El Clasico fixtures since he took over the club in 2021. Only one of those wins has come in the league (the 4 – 0 dribbling in the 2021/22 season) but the way and manner of the wins show that Barcelona and Real Madrid are unequally yoked when paired against each other.

The Catalan giants have played better across the last five Clasicos which Xavi has overseen and Thursday night’s victory was no different.

The former Al-Sadd manager set up his side in an ultra-defensive pattern and allowed Real Madrid to enjoy most of the possession. This led to the club recording their lowest ever possession statistics since Pep Guardiola left for Bayern Munich – a run of 861 games in between.

The build up to the game was riddled with negativity because Barcelona had been suffering on and off the pitch. Barcelona were also going into the game without Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele and Pedri thanks to injury. That left much to be desired by Barcelona fans, who had witnessed poor performances from the side in recent weeks.

Xavi’s press conference before the game also seemed defeatist, as he constantly mentioned that Carlo Ancelotti’s side was the favourite for the Copa del Rey title.

However, the game showed that he believed otherwise as Barcelona put in a solid defensive shift with the young Alejandro Balde shining in both attack and defence, Marcos Alonso putting up another solid performance as a centre back and Ronald Araujo once again locking out the threat of Vinicius Jr., whose frustrations with being unable to make anything happen for his side boiled over and almost got him sent off.

The goal came in the 26th minute when Eduardo Camavinga made a poor backpass which Gavi pounced upon to release Franck Kessie. The Ivorian midfielder shot at Thibaut Courtois in the Madrid goal, who parried it onto the onrushing Eder Militao before it landed in the back of the net.

Barcelona had the chance to go 2 – 0 when Raphinha played in a beautiful cross that Ferran Torres missed by inches when clear on goal. Raphinha’s replacement Ansu Fati then spoiled another chance to increase the side’s lead when he unknowingly blocked another Kessi shot that was through on goal.

It was their ninth win at their rivals home ground in 15 games and a special one at that, because Madrid could not muster a single shot on target for the whole game.

It was also their 16th win from 36 games played in the Copa del Rey against Madrid, which exerts their dominance over the capital club in that competition.

It is a slender lead to take to the Spotify Camp Nou, but Xavi and his boys will be buoyed by another El Clasico victory in the season, having previously beat Madrid 3 – 1 in the final of the Supercopa d’España to claim their first trophy of the season.

Martin Graham is an MFF sports writer

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