We understand that it’s no longer El Clasico of Mourinho and Guardiola, or that of Cristiano and Messi, but it is still a spectacle capable of satisfying the worldwide expectation it generates. Real Madrid won the game by staying true to their manner of playing under Ancelotti by leaving the initiative to the opponent and look to strike on the counter. Barça lost the contest by pressing high, taking risks against a Madrid side that are spear-headed by European football’s most in form pair in Vinicius and Benzema, with the duo already responsible for 38 goals so far this season. The Catalan side lost the game but did so with their heads held high and for the first time in some while we saw glimpses of a solid Barça team, capable of pushing Madrid to the limit and indeed to extra time. They may have lost the match, but the feeling is that they recovered their dignity.
De Jong inspired
It was not the one-sided El Clasico that many expected. The game, however did start with Real Madrid dominating the opening passage off the tie. Having taken the lead, they committed the sin of relaxing too much. In contrast Barça upped the tempo and looked to the mazy runs of Dembélé and the physical presence of Luuk de Jong to cause trouble with the Dutch striker bagging the equalizer. The forward has shaken off any shackles and. Fear and is now prolific in front of goal having scored against Mallorca, Granada and now Real Madrid in recent outings. With the scoreline at 1-1 at the break, Barça looked like the stronger side.
Thrills and spills
The second half and extra time were magnificent. We saw the reappearance of Pedri and Ansu Fati, both with positive displays. Pedri was employed by Xavi in a more attacking role as he was when at Las Palmas. Once again Luka Modric delivered another sublime performance before being switched as the clock ticked down. Benzema too was tireless for Madrid in a game that was high on effort from both sides and we saw goals, drama and the excitement of extra time. The game featured contrasting styles, one team waiting patiently, the other pressing and probing. Ultimately it’s Madrid who progress to the final but Barcelona can take heart from the caliber of the display from a team that slowly seems to be discovering its rhythm.