After a low-scoring yet rather thrilling duel in Camp Nou, Barcelona marches into the top 4 of the Copa del Rey. A dominant display saw the Blaugrana outpeer their Basque counterparts in every aspect of play, and just the lackluster finishing and a bit of misfortune stopped them from scoring more.
Barca News Network brings you 4 talking points from the victorious Copa del Rey clash against Real Sociedad.
1. The Brais Méndez-story
Although the Catalans produced one of their strongest performances in the first half, the 45 minutes ended all square. However, Barcelona got a huge boost as arguably the best La Real player on the pitch, Brais Méndez got sent off in the late minutes of the first half.
Indeed, it wasn’t an isolated accident. Minutes before that, as Lewandowski tried to protect the ball, he – seemingly deliberately – blocked the way from the rushing Méndez and hit him with the elbow. Moreover, he got away with nothing, which really got on the Sociedad number 23’s nerves.
From that moment on, the frustration was visible in his actions, and the reckless will of revenge got his rationality blindfolded. At first, a rough challenge on Gavi showed the fury of the Spanish midfielder, but he got away without receiving a card yet.
However, we didn’t have to wait much to the completion. In the 40′ minute, the fuming midfielder fulfilled his revenge, fouling brutally Busquets, which – after some VAR checkings – earned him his (arguably) deserved penalty, in form of a Red Card.
A bittersweet revenge that eventually put his team in an even tougher situation, Méndez showed his human face and his emotions got the better of him this time. On the pitch, though, more professionalism and a cool head are a must at the highest level. An edifying little story.
2. The Dembélé Show
One can never emphasize enough how amazing player Ousmane Dembélé is, both in a positive and negative way as well. While he can totally disappear for whole games, easily losing every ball in some dumb dribbling attempts, on his day, he can shine as the brightest star, annihilating the opposition defense, with magic at his feet. Yesterday, it was that night for Dembélé.
Bursting down the right flank, constantly threatening the opposition defense, Dembélé had one of his best nights in a Barcelona jersey. Dazzling through La Real defenders at a blistering speed, the Frenchman was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, creating chances as well as scoring the decisive goal.
In 84 minutes played: 79 touches, 44/52 (85%) accurate passes, 4 passes into the final third, 4/4 accurate long balls, 3 chances created, 5/9 successful dribbles, 2/3 shot accuracy, 6 recoveries, and a winning goal. What else can one dream about?
3. Backline quartet
Week in and week out, the rise of a new defensive dynasty is taking shape. We have already written about the mighty triangle of Araújo, Christensen, and Koundé, but on the left-hand side, despite some previous fluctuations in form, Alejandro Baldé has well and truly grown up to Jordi Alba’s level.
Of course, they have different features and main skills that define their game, especially at this age. Jordi Alba is losing his dynamism, but his experience and passing ability profusely compensate for him. On the other hand, Baldé’s main skill is his pace and technique, he can penetrate the opposition’s flanks like a winger, while his defensive contribution also improves steadily.
Jules Koundé is a wonderfully versatile defender, one who can fill in multiple roles in the Blaugrana backline. Originally a central defender, the Frenchman is more likely to occupy the right-back spot in Xavi’s system on a long term, which he perfectly underpinned with a clean performance, dealing well with his defensive duties as well as in progression, crowning his performance with an assist.
Ronald Araújo needs no introduction. A fearless defender who is a genuine rock, an unmovable giant who can neutralize any opposing attacker, even such extraordinary magicians as Vinícius Jr. Besides, a true Culé, whose heart bleeds the Blaugrana, a genuine warrior who gives his all to defend his beloved crest. This one was just one of his long line of great performances.
Andreas Christensen, though, is the prototype of the silent hero. Although just joining Barcelona in the summer, he acclimatized quickly to the Catalan capital’s environment, and as time went on, he became a crucial cog of Xavi’s team. Slowly, his impeccable game started to steal the headlines, and although not the most spectacular, he proved to be a great, extremely useful signing.
4. One step closer
With this win, Barcelona steps closer to the final victory in the cup, and thus, adding a second trophy to this season’s count. Two weeks ago, the Catalans finally broke a nearly 2-year trophyless curse, lifting Xavi’s and thus, the post-Messi era’s first trophy. And it’s not the peak yet. It’s just the beginning.
Defeating Real Betis and Real Madrid is nothing short of laudable, and after Intercity, Ceuta, and Real Sociedad, a second triumph is on the horizon with just two games to go. Moreover, one shouldn’t forget that the league lead is also in our hands, and with a potentially successful campaign, it may end up as a memorable domestic treble. A por la final!