FC Barcelona are through to the Copa del Rey final with a very comfortable scoreline despite not being comfortable for the majority of the match. Sometimes you need to consult shot stats or xG to see which team created more opportunities, but not for this clásico. It was clear as day that Real Madrid had the majority of chances, but the difference in efficiency was also equally obvious.
Barcelona made Madrid pay each time they had a shot, while los blancos were wasteful. In the end, despite Barça being flattered tremendously by the scoreline, we have to bear in mind that Real Madrid needed 4 more goals to qualify and were quite far from doing so.
Vinícius vs. Semedo
Vinícius was a paradox this match. Madrid’s best player and arguably the man of the match, but also, in a way, the reason they lost. In truth, the fact that an 18-year-old shone in this match is a huge achievement, and it’s entirely unfair to place any blame with him, really. But taking a cold look at the match, such that it is, you have to come to this conclusion.
He was a handful for Barcelona, taking players on, creating chances, and getting into positions to shoot. But he was very, very wasteful. He took six shots but only one hit the target. He wasn’t just taking potshots, he was very often close to the six-yard box or one-on-one with the keeper. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect him to improve, and when he does, he could really be one of the top few players in the world. Of course, making that improvement is also very hard.
Much was made of Ernesto Valverde starting Sergi Roberto, usually a right-back, in midfield. Diario AS called it the “anti-Vinícius plan,” but that’s pretty much an exaggeration. Simply, Arthur was not fit, Philippe Coutinho and Arturo Vidal are in poor form, and Valverde does not yet trust Carles Aleñá to start a contest like this. Roberto started the UEFA Champions League knockout game against Lyon as well. It’s safe to say he’s simply Valverde’s preferred choice in midfield at the moment, until Arthur is back fit, regardless of opponent.
Further proof of Roberto not being some sort of anti-Vinícius plan was the fact that the Brazilian was often attacking Nélson Semedo 1v1. This was a problem for Barça as the young star thrives in those situations with his speed, acceleration, and close control.
Semedo is the match’s most controversial player. Some said he was absolutely terrible, while others hailed him as an unsung hero. The truth is in the middle. Semedo simply had his hands full playing against not just Vinícius but also an impressive Sergio Reguilón at left-back. Madrid concentrated the majority of their attacks down that flank.
The Portuguese man was left too isolated against a player who is an amazing dribbler, and consequently, was dribbled often. Valverde has to adjust to this in the upcoming league clásico. If anything, he needs an anti-Vinícius plan, because he didn’t really have one.
Perhaps Semedo’s biggest mistake was losing possession near midfield which allowed Madrid a quick opportunity after regaining possession with Barcelona pushed up. Thankfully for Barça, this chance was also squandered.
On the other hand, Semedo also made a lot of last-minute challenges in the box, some quite difficult, to help keep Barcelona’s clean sheets. In all, Semedo made one successful tackle, one interception, three blocks - and that’s just inside his own penalty area. He was dribbled past too often, but he was clearly asked to do too much. Perhaps nothing summed up the match more than Vinícius dribbling by Semedo, fooling Gerard Piqué, and as he’s about to score, Semedo recovering just in time to deflect the shot just wide.
How often did Vinícius shoot at goal after dribbling by Semedo? As far as I could tell, it was zero times. Well, it was twice, but both times they were blocked by the right-back. Most of the Brazilian’s best chances actually came when he was in the middle and outside of Semedo’s responsibility.
Barcelona’s goal changes everything
To contrast with Madrid’s wastefulness, Luis Suárez only needed half a chance to score after being set up by Ousmane Dembélé. Once again, Jordi Alba was involved in Barcelona’s chance creation, though this time it was through a perfectly-weighted throughball to set up the Frenchman.
After that, the state of the match changed a lot. At 0-0, Madrid were through, but at 0-1, they would need at minimum one goal. That allowed Barcelona to be more comfortable counterattacking, which dulled the threat posed by los vikingos.
Marc-André ter Stegen was brilliant, saving two one-on-one chances and making an out-of-this world save on a Lucas Vázquez header after Vinícius had gone by Semedo once again. (This was, by the way, the only time I can remember that Vinícius set up a teammate to shoot after going by Semedo.)
Semedo then denied Vinícius with that last minute challenge mentioned earlier, and in the next highlight, Semedo found Dembélé with a throughball, this time on the right wing, to once again cross to Suárez. Raphaël Varane was forced into a diving challenge that resulted in an own goal.
At 2-0 up, the match was more or less over. Madrid now needed 3 goals. This pushed them further even more, and Barcelona were content to counter into space. It was in one such action that Suárez won a penalty, which he calmly chipped to make it 3-0. The tie was truly done then, and Barcelona essentially rested players with their changes and went into a slightly more defensive formation to prevent Madrid from inching closer.
Santiago Solari didn’t have much of an answer, he changed his wingers when they grew tired, and slightly changed his midfield with Federico Valverde coming in for Casemiro to make it a more attacking setup. By then, it was too late anyway.
The next match
El clásico returns for the fourth time this season this weekend. In a very odd turn of events, I suspect it will be the manager who lost 3-0 who will keep things more or less the same, and it will be the winning manager who will attempt to fix some things.
Is Arthur fit to start? His ability on the ball makes him a great addition to Barcelona, but will he cover enough ground to help the defense? Well, Valverde would surely put Ivan Rakitić on the right to help Semedo and perhaps that would neutralize Vinícius a little. On the other hand, if Barcelona can maintain possession better, and generally minimize mistakes in turning the ball over, they will be less vulnerable to Madrid’s quick wingers.
Perhaps what the team needs is a right-winger who will pin Vinícius back, as well as Reguilón. Lionel Messi wasn’t at his best and the team had trouble finding him, but regardless, he drifts into central areas. Can Valverde change the formation to put Dembélé on the right, and Messi through the middle? Can you really sacrifice Suárez after that performance? Is a change in formation needed?
Both teams may start thinking about their UEFA Champions League return legs and could even rotate during this match. It’s an interesting one since Madrid could come to within six points (bearing in mind they likely won’t have the tiebreaker) with a win, and they would at worst put more pressure on Barcelona if Atlético Madrid win their match and come to within just four points.