A draw at the Santiago Bernabéu in tonight’s Copa del Rey semi final first leg was an excellent result, but there will be a bittersweet sensation in the Barça camp following a game in which, had they taken more than just one of their umpteen chances, they’d almost be home and dry. It was an attractive game, with plenty of intensity and edge-of-your-seat moments, which saw the defending champions take the lead early in the second half through Cesc. But they failed to beat Iker Casillas’ replacement Diego López on any of the many attacks that had yet to come and a late goal from young Varane means there is still a lot to be decided when the sides meet again at the Camp Nou.
Show of resistance
It only took Barça ten minutes to get the nerves tickling in the Bernabéu. Madrid had come out strong, and after just 45 seconds Piqué was yellow carded for intercepting Cristiano and then Pinto warmed his gloves to parry away a venomous free kick from the Portuguese striker. Curiously, this would be the only foul that Barça conceded in the entire first half. Such intense pressure from the all-whites was clearly preventing Barça from getting into their stride, but with Xavi leading the way, the visitors gradually drifted into their famous possession game, dampening the early enthusiasm among the home supporters.
Clash of priorities
Barça’s increasing dominance served to bring out the aggression in Madrid’s somewhat makeshift defence. And the chances soon started flowing for FCB. Alba had the first in the 12th minute, but his shot went well wide, and then a magnificent 21st minute free kick from Xavi struck the crossbar. Shortly after, Varane cleared another Xavi effort off the goal line, the assist having come the omnipresent Cesc.
Meanwhile, there was little change in Madrid’s approach. Whenever they got the ball they used route one to get the ball as near as they could to Pinto’s goal. And on occasions it worked. Benzema’s 27 minute attempt only just skimmed wide of the post, and as the pace of the game became more and more frenetic, things were clearly panning out the way Mourinho wanted.
Golden goal from Cesc
Madrid came out with renewed intent after the break, but just as they were almost starting to look the better team, Cesc gave them a dose of their own medicine. Following a move initiated by Messi, the Catalan beat debutant keeper Diego López with a deft finish, having broken through enemy lines and thwarted the offside trap to absolute perfection.
The goal did little to change the dynamic of the game. Madrid continued to play it physical and look for chances on the counter attack, while Barça did quite the opposite. Two chances fell to Cristiano, both at the far post and the latter miraculously cleared by Piqué. But despite these occasional threats, Barça generally looked comfortable with the way things were going, and with a little more accuracy over the last few metres, they could easily have extended their lead.
Squandered chances and Madrid respond
The last twenty minutes saw more of the same, with Barcelona uncharacteristically inefficient in front of goal. First it was Cesc who sent an excellent cross from Alves flying high and then Pedro ended a long run to find himself one on one with Diego López, but took just a moment too long to shoot and eventually saw the ball drift wide. The home keeper had just been called upon once again, this time to prevent Messi from getting on the scoresheet, when at the other Varane pulled level with an impeccable header. The young Frenchman had been one the most outstanding players on the pitch, but all round, it was FC Barcelona who had looked by far the better of the two teams. However, mistakes in football can be costly, and Barça’s disappointing finishing has thrown Real Madrid a lifeline. But at the end of the day, a draw at the Bernabéu is never a bad result, and FC Barcelona are still excellently poised for the second leg and a place in the Copa del Rey final.