There’s a saying that goes: “Mucho premio para tan poco futbol.”
Roughly translated, it means too big of a reward for such little football display.
Arguably, that could be applied to Barcelona in their 1-0 win the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal against Real Madrid.
The Catalan side was without Ousmane Dembéle, Pedri, Robert Lewandowski and Andreas Christensen. Given all those absences, it was no surprise Los Blancos were the favorites.
The first 15 minutes attested to that as the home side could have gone up within the first minute as Luka Modric got in behind Marcos Alonso only for his shot go wide of the net. Real Madrid suffocated Barcelona, not allowing them to play out from the back and forcing them into sloppy passes.
Despite dominating, Barcelona would take the lead in the 26th minute.
After recovering the ball in Madrid’s half, Ferran Torres carried the ball, waiting for a run from Franck Kessie. The midfielder made the run and Torres laid it off. Withstanding a bit of a shove, Kessie’s shot hit off Thibaut Courtois. The rebound then hit Eder Militao and ended up in the back of the net in spite of Nacho Fernandez’s best effort to clear it.
The goal was initially waived off because of offside. But after a VAR check, it was overturned as Kessie was not offside.
Against Manchester United, Barcelona found themselves in the lead in both the home and away leg. Lack of concentration either immediately following the goal or in the second half led to their downfall.
On this occasion, they seemed to have learned their lesson.
Almost a carbon copy of the opening minutes, Real Madrid came out looking for an equalizer and had Barcelona pinned back. Once again, Barcelona withstood their pressure and managed to level the game despite not having much possession.
In fact, it was Barcelona who ended up having the best chance of the second half. Now on the right, Ferran Torres took on the Madrid defender and cut the ball back inside the box to an oncoming Kessie. He struck the ball and looked to be on his way for a brace had it not been for Ansu Fati who could not get out the way in time. The ball hit him and deflected wide of the net.
Barcelona continued to soak the pressure and forced Real Madrid to crossing the ball inside the box and hoping Karim Benzema ended up on the receiving end of it. Carlo Ancelotti brought on Rodrygo and Alvaro Rodriguez in search of an equalizer. Aside from a long-range effort from the Brazilian, neither was able to make a significant impact.
What they lacked in attack, Barcelona more than made up for it in defense. Ronald Araújo limited Vinicius Jr.’s impact and is one of the reasons Real Madrid looked so feeble in attack.
Jules Kounde seemingly snuffed out each and every cross into the area and Marcos Alonso did more than admirably filling in for Christensen. A few shake opening minutes aside, Alejandro Balde’s youthfulness got him out of tight spaces, especially when Madrid tried to close him down.
“We have not been able to keep the ball, it has been difficult for us to win duels to have possession, but we have defended very well,” Xavi Hernandez said after the match. “We have fought until the end and that’s very positive.
In the end, Barcelona held on to take a 1-0 advantage with the return leg at the Camp Nou in a couple of weeks. Psychologically, it was an important win given their absences. By the time the second leg comes around, they should be able to count on Dembélé and Lewandowski.
Barcelona did not play well by any stretch of the imagination. They also lacked in the attack and lost the possession battle. But that’s likely not something they are going to lose sleep over.
What matters to Barcelona is they got the win in a match without four of their most important players and in a match where they’ll be the first to admit played poorly. Whichever way you look at it, it’s the shot in the arm the team needed after a difficult week.