- Barcelona hosted Real Madrid in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final at the Camp Nou
- Barcelona headed into the match with a 1-0 lead in the aggregate score
- However, they were outdone by Real Madrid with Vinicius Jr and Karim Benzema ripping apart their defence
- Just what went wrong for the La Liga leaders to receive such a beating by an all-time rival
Barcelona will win La Liga; that much is almost certain at this juncture. However, their elimination from the Copa del Rey semi-finals by Real Madrid offered yet another reminder of how unremarkable the Blaugrana have become.
Of course, even the greatest teams can have a bad day from time to time. With the number of matches played by contemporary footballers, no team can be expected to be flawless all of the time.
Even when Barcelona won the first match 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, they were clearly second best. They simply got lucky with an Eder Militao own strike.
The first match was one of the least Barcelona-like performances you’re likely to see from the Blaugrana, with the Blaugrana surrendering possession to an incredible degree. Fans would have screamed sacrilege if it had happened under Ronald Koeman or Ernesto Valverde’s supervision.
Barcelona less impressive against Real Madrid in the second leg
On Wednesday, they were even less impressive in their own backyard, losing 4-0 to a Madrid side that played devastating direct football and clearly understood how to exploit their strengths.
Given Barcelona’s set-up in the first leg and the fact that they didn’t need to pursue goals at first, it’s not surprising that they looked less offensive than their visitors in the first half.
It could be claimed that the hosts did a good job of disrupting Madrid. Los Blancos appeared to be a danger, but Barca, particularly Gavi, got in their faces.
But when Madrid had a chance to get into their rhythm, they looked far deadlier than Barcelona and deserved to lead at the break.
Rodrygo began a counter-attack superbly from his own box, evading a cynical block from Marcos Alonso to set up Vinicius Junior. He picked out the ideal pass for Karim Benzema and then got it back, his subsequent shot hitting Jules Kounde and just about crossing the line before his strike partner could prod it over.
Benzema, on the other hand, didn’t have to wait long to get his name on the scoreboard.
Only four minutes into the second period, Benzema scored with a clinical first-time finish from the edge of the box, following great work from Luka Modric cutting in off the right flank.
Madrid was suddenly ahead on aggregate. Barca had to break out of their shell at some point. Xavi needed to discover solutions.
Barcelona lacked it
Another eight minutes passed and the deficit increased again. Vinicius was the one doing the damage, his unpredictability luring Franck Kessie into a clumsy challenge in the box to concede a penalty that Benzema obviously converted.
Finally, Xavi looked to alter things. Ansu Fati arrived first; Ferran Torres and Eric Garcia followed soon after.
The problem by this point of course was Barca’s increased desperation and Madrid’s ability on the break.
The fourth goal: Casepoint
Vinicius burst through the Barcelona backline for the third time. Deceiving Kounde on the edge of the box enabled the Brazilian to sneak the ball through to Benzema, whose finish was effortlessly cool as it just flicked up out of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s right leg’s reach.
The Frenchman has had a difficult season, dealing with injuries and a lack of stability. But his third goal on Wednesday gave him a second hat-trick in as many games after guiding Real Valladolid to a 3-0 victory over the weekend.
Barcelona will almost certainly be able to console themselves with a La Liga victory, which was their primary goal this season. And don’t forget that they beat Real Madrid to essentially win the league a little more than two weeks ago.
However, determining what Xavi’s Barcelona are truly good at is difficult. Even with their first-leg victory over Madrid, they performed poorly in this game. They were eliminated at the group stage of the Champions League and then thoroughly dealt with in the Europa League by a Manchester United team that went on to lose 7-0 to Liverpool a week and a half later.
They’re no longer the type of team that can guarantee passing even the best opponents to death, and on Wednesday there was a clear lack of personality on show from those in attack, including Robert Lewandowski, whose 2023 form becomes more concerning by the match.
Sure, La Liga is theirs to keep, but their ethos is undoubtedly just as important – if not more – than their success.
As the saying says, “Mes que un club.” Barcelona, on the other hand, is losing its soul and becoming just another team.