Barcelona have taken a massive step towards a spot in the 2023 Copa del Rey Final thanks to a very impressive 1-0 win against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first leg of their semi-final tie. Without their three best attacking players on the night the Blaugrana played a very mature and defensively sound game for all 90 minutes and had luck on their side, as a Nacho own goal proved to be the winner for a Barça team that picked up a huge victory after two bad losses in a row last week and put themselves in great position ahead of next month’s second leg at Camp Nou.
It was evident that Madrid were going to bring a lot of energy and intensity from the very beginning against a weakened Barça side and the Blaugrana needed to be prepared for an early onslaught from Los Blancos. The opening 15-minute blitz came, and Barça dealt with it very well with good defensive structure, some excellent tackling and strong physical play to frustrate Madrid’s attackers.
After managing to weather the early storm the Blaugrana slowly became more courageous in possession and started pressing higher up the pitch, moving the ball very quickly from back to front and looking to force Madrid into mistakes in dangerous positions.
And that’s exactly how Barça scored the only goal of the half: Franck Kessie stole the ball from Eduardo Camavinga to start a counter-attack and after a nice pass from Ferran Torres Kessie found himself one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, who saved the Ivorian’s shot but saw the ball hit Éder Militão and then Nacho’s foot and go into the Madrid net for an own goal.
Barça had a valuable lead but knew they needed to withstand another Madrid barrage, and they did it again without allowing a true goalscoring opportunity other than a Dani Carvajal volley than went well over the bar.
There was more physical play from both teams in the final 15 minutes of the period, and while Los Blancos were clearly frustrated and letting their emotions get the better of them, Barça remained calm and continued to manage the game to retain the lead.
At halftime, a calm, poised, mature and efficient performance had earned the visitors a crucial advantage, but they needed to continue the good work to finish the job in the second half.
Madrid once again brought all the energy and the intensity to start the final period, and once again Barça did an excellent job of staying organized, defending their box and slowing down the Madrid momentum in the first 15 minutes of the half.
Barça were by far and away the best team on the pitch for the next 15 minutes, having more of the ball and starting to exploit the spaces left by an increasingly desperate and tired Madrid side.
The Catalans had two massive counter-attacks that could have easily resulted in a second goal, but Raphinha was unable to complete a cross that would have given Ferran a tap-in, and Ansu Fati was in the wrong place at the wrong time and accidentally acted as a center-back at the goal-line to take away a certain Kessie goal after a beautiful team move.
The final 10 minutes plus added time were about survival and finishing the job as Madrid sent virtually all their players forward and put in plenty of crosses and shots from distance looking for a late equalizer, but Barça survived the dying seconds and the final whistle came to give them a massive victory, one of their best of the entire season.
I am so proud of the way this team fought and remained poised under pressure, and Xavi Hernández came up with an excellent gameplan that was followed perfectly by his players. Fantastic effort, boys. Just fantastic.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Militão, Rüdiger, Nacho (Rodrygo 67’); Camavinga, Kroos (Tchouameni 74’); Valverde, Modric (Álvaro 84’), Vinicius; Benzema
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Alonso, Balde; De Jong, Busquets, Kessie (Roberto 86’); Raphinha (Fati 69’), Ferran, Gavi
Goal: Nacho (OG 26’)