Barcelona advanced to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey by beating Real Sociedad 1-0 at the Camp Nou.
Ousmane Dembélé scored the lone goal of the match as it proved to be enough for a Catalan side who played with a man advantage for the entirety of the second half after Brais Méndes was sent off in the 40th minute after a challenge on Sergio Busquets.
Here are three talking points from the win.
Barcelona dominated the first half against a good La Real side
The first half against Real Sociedad was one of the best halves Xavi Hernandez’s team has produced all season.
As expected, he trotted out a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield of Pedri, Busquets, De Jong and Gavi, with Gavi playing higher up on the left. It was the same formation Xavi used in their Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid.
Once again, it paid dividends.
Barcelona were moving the ball with ease with everything going according to script with the exception of putting the ball in the back of the net. They got close on a couple of occasions but it was that final pass or touch that let them down.
In fact, it was Real Sociedad who arguably had the most clear goal scoring opportunity where — with one of their only shots in the half — they hit the post. The home side managed to impose themselves on a Real Sociedad team who had gone unbeaten in their last nine games and usually make things difficult for the Blaugrana.
Going forward, this formation, with the extra man in midfield, is the one we’re going to see when Barcelona take on better sides in LaLiga and Europe.
Barcelona want to see more of this Ousmane Dembélé
Ousmane Dembélé was unplayable on the night. The French forward had arguably his best game since arriving at the club more than five years ago.
In addition to scoring the winner, he delivered a couple of through balls that could have ended up in the back of the net. He played with confidence. A confidence that we’re starting to see more and more this season.
His decision making was on point and the ease with which he continually beat the Real Sociedad defenders was something to behold. As is the way he’s turned things around from where he was at this point last season.
Last season he was being punished and watching the games from the stands as he was yet to renew his contract with Barcelona. Xavi kept the confidence in Dembélé and he’s become one of the most important players for the manager — evident in the fact that when Xavi switches to only two attackers, Dembélé is the one accompanying Robert Lewandowski.
Barcelona’s inability to finish off a game will cost them sooner rather than later
There are plenty of positives to take out of this Barcelona performance. But the biggest negative was once again their inability to pad their lead and see the game off.
That deficiency was made to look even worse considering they played with a man advantage in the second half. With how they were playing and Dembélé’s goal early in the half, they should have won by more than just one goal.
They were holding on in the final minute with Real Sociedad coming agonizingly close to an equalizer. Marc-Andre ter Stegen almost gifted them the equalizer following a bad pass, though he rectified it by blocking the shot. He also made another save in stoppage time.
In his interview after the game, Ronald Araújo stated one of the things Xavi was going to focus on was not seeing off the game.
“That’s my feeling today and in the game against Getafe and other days where we’ve won by a goal to nil,” Xavi said in his press conference following the match. “The game gets complicated in the end and we always get saved by Ter Stegen or a defender. And there are moments where we have to kill off the game. It’s something we have to learn.
“But it’s also football. If you aren’t effective on the ball or you don’t come in physically in certain moments, you’ll end up suffering. That’s the only negative feeling from the game.”
If there’s one thing Barcelona have been able to do is suffer in matches. In Spain, they’ve bent but have yet to break. Much of that is attributed to their backline of Jules Kounde, Araújo, Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde. Christensen has come in and has adapted quicker than most of Barcelona’s new signings. He may end up being their best signing of the season considering they signed him on a free.
With the win, Barcelona advanced to the semifinals alongside Osasuna. The remaining two spots will be decided in the matches between Real Madrid/Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao/Osasuna, respectively.
Barcelona shift their attention back to LaLiga where they will look to keep their lead at the top of the table against Girona.