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What ‘unwanted’ record did Barcelona set against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey?

Barça head coach Xavi Hernández was not pleased with his team’s performance in their cup semi-final win at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.

Tickets for Real Madrid vs Barcelona top $3,000

Barcelona defeated Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final on Thursday but didn’t exactly do it in what you would call stereotypical ‘Barça style’. Xavi Hernández’s side registered the lowest possession percentage in the club’s history, or at least since records began. The Catalans had just 35.3% of the ball at the Santiago Bernabéu, much lower than their average of the course of the whole season, which stands at 63.7%. Despite that, their victory saw them have more shots on target (two) than Carlo Ancelotti’s men, who didn’t test Marc-Andre ter Stegen on a single occasion.

Barcelona's lowest possession statistics per game since records began.
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Barcelona's lowest possession statistics per game since records began.

What did Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández say about his team’s performance?

After the match, Xavi revealed that he wasn’t happy with how little of the ball his team had seen and how they had played in general: “Our game plan was to have long periods possessions and play in opposition half. We wanted to dominate the game with our possession...but we were up against Real Madrid. We always want to ‘defend with the ball’, but sometimes it’s not possible. We like to create more going forward. We didn’t play the game we wanted or expected”, stated the Barça coach in his post-match press conference.

Barcelona’s disappointing attacking numbers

Barcelona’s modest possession figures led to few ventures into the Real Madrid penalty area and when they did manage to cross the halfway line, they were often guilty of giving the ball away cheaply; the visitors’ had a pass completion rate of only 58% in the attacking third of the field.

What caused it? A lack of bodies getting forward was one explanation. Raphinha led a number of counterattacks but regularly lost possession after being crowded out by opposition players. Barça’s attempts to prevent Madrid from attacking by keeping possession proved unsuccessful, on the whole.

Real Madrid: more attacking presence but less threat

The European champions racked up far more touches in the opposition penalty area (41-10) and passes in the attacking third (273-58), yet Xavi’s men were arguably the more threatening when they did attack. This heat map shows just how little time Barcelona spent in the Real Madrid half and how deep they were forced to play for long spells.

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Key players missing for Barcelona

Of course, Barcelona’s performance in this particular game wasn’t aided by the fact that they were missing several key players, who would surely have helped them keep the ball better. Pedri is a vital cog in Xavi’s normal system for precisely that reason, with the absences of Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski also deprived the Catalans of attacking quality and gave Madrid some respite. Even though they dominated the ball, Ancelotti’s side failed to create any dangerous openings, with Barça able to hold onto the lead given to them by Eder Militão’s own goal relatively comfortably, despite being forced back.

Barcelona -and Xavi - have a long tradition of claiming that they play soccer the ‘right’ way: dominating possession and controlling games as such. Just a few weeks ago, though, they also lost the battle for possession against Villarreal (46.52%) in another match that they won. Have Barça started to realise that there is more than one way to win a game of soccer?


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