Despite the best efforts of the officials to spoil the match, Barcelona played a remarkably consistent 120 minutes against Real Sociedad.
The change in the way that the team is playing the ball around now is marked, and all without Lionel Messi on this occasion of course.
Confidence is vastly underrated, because when a team is playing with it, when movement and speed of thought and pass is natural, not forced, the difference is quite something.
Compare and contrast the Barca of six weeks or so ago to the one of the last few weeks. Like chalk and cheese.
Credit to Ronald Koeman and his staff for sticking with his ideas in the hope, nay expectation, that they would bear fruit eventually.
La Real may have slipped off the pace in the league, but they were always going to provide tough opposition here.
A potential Basque Super Cup final on Sunday (should Athletic overcome Real Madrid, and to be played before last season’s Copa del Rey final), would’ve been enough of a carrot for Imanol Aguacil’s outfit.
For the most part the game was equal in just about every aspect. Both sides had their chances, but Barca had one man in particular to thank for their passage into Sunday’s showpiece: Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
6 - Marc-André ter Stegen made six saves against Real Sociedad, equalling their best tally in a single game for @FCBarcelona this season in all competitions (also six vs Dynamo Kiev in #UCL). Besides, he saved two of the five penalties in the penalty shoot-out. Hero. pic.twitter.com/mwqmMXbQbf— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 13, 2021
The German pulled off some incredible stops, particularly in extra-time and the shoot-out, and has surely sent another message to the national team selectors. How they consistently ignore him is beyond belief.
On a night when he was busier than he has been for a while, he was more than up to the task. Whether down low or soaring high, his performance gave Barca the platform for victory.
The night belonged to him, absolutely, however, there were other notable showings.
Ousmane Dembele had one of his best games in the blaugrana shirt, and when it appeared that he’d picked up another injury in extra-time, there was an audible groan from the bench.
As brilliant as he has been of late, he’s still so brittle, which is going to continue to cause him, and Barca, problems moving forward.
His pace and skill were a joy to watch, and the only shame was that he was unable to find the finish that his play deserved on the night.
At the other end of the pitch, Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo are deserving of any plaudits that come their way.
Both complement the other and have struck up quite the understanding in the short space of time they’ve played together at the top level.
Not long out of the Barca B squad, the biggest compliment that can be paid to the pair is that no one would bat an eyelid now if Koeman played them as his first choice centre-backs (albeit Mingueza replaced Dest on the right tonight).
Whilst that’s unlikely when Pique returns, we at least have genuine options in that area now.
Whomever we play on Sunday, we now have a great chance of silverware, and that seemed a million miles away not so long ago.