Barcelona faced off against Real Madrid in their fifth face-off this season. Despite a promising start to the Clásico, their woes ultimately showed, and they were swept aside.
In a heated encounter between two eternal rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid faced off in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals. The Catalans had a promising start to the Clásico, troubling the away side from the get-go, but were unable to get the better of the now cup finalists.
The game can best be described by delving into three sections: the good, the bad, and the ugly, for Xavi’s side.
Barcelona starting off in this Clásico as well as they did, especially given the gravity of the game, speaks volumes to Xavi’s tactical nous. The Barcelona legend had gotten the better of Ancelotti and his men in the last three Clásico encounters, but this time, the Italian manager had Xavi’s number.
Ultimately, the Catalans created many chances, especially in the first half. They had control in large portions of the opening 45, and managed to virtually nullify the effect of Madrid’s midfield. Camavinga continously struggled against Raphinha, and Vinícius Jr. could barely seem to get past Ronald Araujo.
Sergi Roberto started in midfield alongside veteran Sergio Busquets and summer signing Franck Kessié. The midfield trident managed to do well and Gavi covered the length of the pitch multiple times, as the Spotify Camp Nou audience have gotten so accustomed to seeing.
Ronald Araujo at right-back proved to be a good choice by Xavi, as Vinícius constantly struggled to get past the Uruguayan. Koundé and Marcos Alonso did well to keep Karim Benzema out of the game, but were ultimately caught out on the break for Real Madrid’s opener. The French defender’s heroics to attempt to clear the ball off the line failed, and helplessly, the Catalans saw the ball trickle into the back of the net.
Alejandro Balde is nothing short of an absolute revelation. His speed, his inventiveness going forward, and his courage while on the ball truly were a sight for sore eyes. His lack of experience does come to show in some instances, albeit very few. He only failed 8 of his 46 pass attempts, and had a whopping 74 touches of the ball. The 19-year-old also launched a rocket towards Thibaut Courtois, but saw his shot blocked, although it statistically was deemed on target. He looks a very promising prospect
The bad, and the ugly
Xavi failed to make proper use of his bench players, and his substitutions in an attempt to rectify his side’s poor start to the second half proved to be amiss.
Around the hour-mark, the Catalans’ manager began his substitutions. Ansu Fati replaced Franck Kessié, who had just given away a penalty that was converted by Karim Benzema to make it 3-0. Minutes later, Marcos Alonso was taken off for Eric Garcia, and Ferrán Torres replaced Raphinha, who had been one of the few bright spots in Barcelona’s attacking play in the first half.
But the issues weren’t just with Barcelona’s substitutions. Sergi Roberto recently renewed his contract with Barca, and some fans saw that as a good renewal for a player bringing more depth into the squad. While the Catalan midfielder has seen success against Real Madrid, he looked lost in the second half, and was barely able to string together passes or get into positions of availability for his teammates. Whenever the ball was in the second third of the pitch, the play would virtually come to a halt when Roberto got on the ball. His creativity was lacking and his passes shy of accuracy.
Gavi, while his tenacious nature is refreshing, cannot do it all by himself. He continuously tried to regain possession and build up play. and drove the ball forward well. He had a 75 percent passing accuracy from 32 attempts, and had 44 touches of the ball. However, it did seem like he struggled to link up with his teammates, with a midfield pairing of Kessié, Busquets and Roberto being an unusual one.
Xavi’s starting eleven, and substitutions, were of course a victim of circumstance, but the tactical issues could have been mitigated differently.
Sergio Busquets looked unlike his usual self in the second half: his passes were inaccurate, his positioning was off, especially for Real Madrid’s goals in the second half, and Real Madrid fully exploited that. Perhaps it is a question of fatigue, but with Jordi Alba on the bench, perhaps an option could have been to introduce him as a left-center back if Alonso was to be substituted regardless.
Eric Garcia could have been introduced as Busquets’ substitute, seeing as Busquets’ performance in the second half looked lackluster. This would have, theoretically, given Barcelona a bit better defensive cover in midfield, despite Garcia’s shortcomings. Gavi slotting back into midfield, and the right wing could have been occupied by Raphinha, who given his performance should have been left on the pitch.
Ferrán Torres was simply woeful and had a very quiet second half. His highlight was a yellow card. His passing was very much shy of accuracy and he lacked directness in his play. Being a forward, he only had one pass into the final third, no accurate crosses, two failed long balls, and failed to win his one ground duel.
Ansu Fati is still adapting to Barcelona’s style and play under Xavi, and his struggles continued against Real Madrid. He only had 9 touches of the ball, and was only able to complete 4 of his 6 pass attempts, although his one shot was on target. He committed two fouls, and conceded one.
All in all, it was a disappointing Clásico night for the Blaugrana faithful, as they failed to advance to the final of the Copa del Rey. They had hopes of a domestic double, with a LaLiga trophy looking likely being 12 points clear of second-place Real Madrid. However, they will have to throw all their eggs into the league basket.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, will go for both the cup and the Champions League, where they are set to face Chelsea, who recently parted ways with now former manager Graham Potter.
Barcelona’s next encounter is against Girona, who impressively enough find themselves in 11th place in the league, having made their return to the Spanish top flight from LaLiga SmartBank at the start of the season.