Thursday’s El Clásico came on the heels of two consecutive Barcelona defeats at the hands of Manchester United in the Europa League and Almería in La Liga. Barça fans were wondering, understandably, how the team would bounce back from these recent results. What would their attitude be like? How would Xavi line up against Real Madrid? Would the back line for Barça hold up? In a highly anticipated match in the Copa del Rey Semifinals, these questions were answered. A 0-1 win, away from home, in a somewhat strange game for Barça: a more defensive one.
Barça were on the rocks for roughly the first 20 minutes. Real Madrid’s pressure made it difficult for them to maintain possession, especially with Luka Modric pressing unusually high up the pitch. They didn’t have too many clear chances (besides a Karim Benzema goal that was ruled offside), but Barça had quite a slow start. Vinicius Jr. got tangled up with Frenkie de Jong in the 20th minute, leading to a booking, meaning the Brazilian winger will miss the return leg at the Spotify Camp Nou.
However, at around that time, things started looking up for Xavi’s team. They began to string together longer possessions, calming the game down a bit. Suddenly, a costly error from Eduardo Camavinga in the 26th minute led to a shot from Franck Kessie, which Thibaut Courtois saved. The rebound off the Real Madrid goalkeeper bounced off Éder Militão for an own goal. 0-1 Barcelona!
The rest of the match would play out in an unfamiliar way to Barcelona fans: it was a defensive effort. Instead of defending with the ball, as is the Barcelona style, the side barely had possession in the second half. The defense held on to the lead very well, staying quite compact. Although the home side had more possession, there weren’t too many chances that really made Marc-André ter Stegen sweat. Xavi’s men were attentive and decisive defensively without being too cautious, which led to a good win in the first leg and a good response to their recent run of form.
Here’s how the players rated away from home.
Marc-André ter Stegen: 8/10
The German goalkeeper made very good decisions tonight. Coming out to punch away crosses when he needed to, grabbing a few others, and generally being rock solid at the back. Above all, his passing from the back was quite good. He didn’t risk too much, was pinpoint accurate, and provided some very nice balls to alleviate some of Real Madrid’s pressure. Wasn’t asked to save many shots, but did what he needed to do, and did it with some style.