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FC Barcelona have put themselves in a fantastic position to qualify for yet another Copa del Rey Final after winning 1-0 at Real Madrid in Thursday’s semi-final first leg.
The result was as brilliant as the way it happened was unexpected. In what was almost unrecognisable from the usual Clásico script, Barça ended the game with a measly 35% of the possession and Real Madrid almost doubled the number of passes made by Xavi’s side.
But it was practical, and it was working. Barça knew they still had the whole second leg at Spotify Camp Nou still to come, and were mainly content to demonstrate to the Santiago Bernabéu why they have by far the meanest defence in La Liga.
Jules Kounde and Marcos Alonso stand out for particular praise on such an efficient job in the centre of the Catalan defence, and Ronald Araujo did a fabulous job to neutralise the Vinícius Junior threat, but it was the whole team doing brilliantly that limited what was almost constant pressure from Real Madrid to very, very little in the way of real chances for the home side.
Considering the way the game went, Ter Stegen had surprisingly little to do.
By the end of it, Barça had just four shots to Madrid’s 13. But not only that, they also did what Madrid couldn't do and managed to turn one of their chances into a goal.
Own goal fortune
It has to be admitted that it was very much against the run of play. Before scoring, Barça had struggled to make anything happen, and Madrid’s utter dominance was getting very worrying indeed. Benzema even had the ball in the net, but thankfully the offside flag was raised.
But a Camavinga error in the 16th minute sent Kessie through on Courtois. The Belgian keeper blocked the shot well, but the ball rebounded off Militão and into his own net!
Taking a somewhat unexpected lead knocked the confidence straight back into Barça’s football, while also taking it clean away from Madrid’s own game.
Barça were now in a very good place indeed and it was Madrid that needed the goals. And although almost all of the play for the remaining hour was still in Barça’s half, Madrid were finding it impossible to break down the rock solid blaugrana defending. Their crosses into the box were getting them nowhere.
Ultimately, the Catalan counter attacks were causing just as much real danger. Those included the most clear-cut of all when Kessie looked to have scored but the shot was cleared by… Ansu Fati!
Unintentionally, of course.
A one-month wait
So it ended with yet another clean sheet, this time in the cup. The result is not quite as useful as it would have been in seasons part, for the away goals rule has also been scrapped from the Copa del Rey. But it still sets up Barça very nicely for a place in the final against either Osasuna or Athletic Club.
However, this was just the first act. There are 90 minutes more of this to come in a second leg that won’t get played until over a month from now on Wednesday 5 April. But with home advantage and a one-goal head start, thus far things are looking very sweet indeed... Força Barça!
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