Given Barcelona’s injury woes and the manner in which they’d lost against Manchester United and Almeria in the preceding week, no culer realistically could’ve expected too much from their Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Xavi had decided to totally change his back four from the quartet which started the game at Almeria, perhaps due to Andreas Christensen’s training ground injury, and things looked immediately ominous for Barca’s back line when Luka Modric burst through on goal inside the first minute.
Though the Catalans were moribund as an attacking force in the opening exchanges, for the opening 25 minutes they at least disrupted Real Madrid’s attempts to get their own game going and, to everyone’s surprise, some pressure from Franck Kessie forced Eder Militao into an own goal before the half hour.
If Real expected a walkover, they knew in that moment that their visitors were going to make them work for a victory.
Gavi, who else, was at his terrier-like best, snapping at the heels of every Los Blancos player, drawing boos from the Bernabeu terraces as their favourites were upended time and again.
Time to go to war? You bet!
A shame that Ferran Torres, once again, didn’t read the brief.
Though his pass put Kessie in for the move that led to the goal, the Spaniard did little else. In fact, he did more for his opponent - by continuously giving up possession - than he did for Barca. He has to go in the summer.
His countryman and colleague, Sergio Busquets, was also off the pace in the first half and it’s a wonder that Real weren’t completely dominating in that area of the pitch.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, was Ronald Araujo who offered another towering performance.
On current form there can’t be too many better defenders in world football, if any. The Uruguayan has it all and, importantly, he shows it time and again.
Vinicius Junior can rarely have had such battles as the ones Araujo appears to give him each time the two Spanish giants meet and the Brazilians frustrations were obvious.
He may not be made in La Masia, but the centre-back is every inch a Barca warrior - and a future club captain.
It’s also worth giving more than a cursory mention to his defensive colleagues, Marcos Alonso, Jules Kounde and Alejandro Balde too.
A makeshift back four they may have been, but they kept a Real side that stuck five past Liverpool. at bay for 97 minutes. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Though it was far from a classic performance, it was certainly one of the most important under Xavi.