Even though Barcelona beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal on Thursday, coach Xavi Hernandez was unhappy with how his team played when they had the ball.
Barca had lost their last two games, but they played great defense at the Santiago Bernabeu to beat Madrid. Eder Militao’s own goal in the first half was the difference between the two teams.
Xavi’s team only had 35% of the ball, which is their lowest in the last eight seasons and in the last 685 games for which we have data. Before that, they were at 44%.
“I’m happy with how hard we tried and how we defended,” Xavi told reporters after the game. “We made it hard for Madrid to score at home, where they usually have a lot of chances.
“I’m glad about the good result, but we still need to work on the ball. The plan was to keep the ball for long periods of time and defend with it, but we couldn’t do that.
“Most of the time, we are better in possession and more accurate. We didn’t make good decisions today, we didn’t have patience with the ball, and we didn’t win the physical battles in their half, but there were other parts of the game I liked.”
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But even though Barca gave the ball to Madrid, they did not let Madrid get a single shot on goal.
It was the first time since a 2-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in last year’s Champions League that Madrid didn’t get a shot on goal. In the last 294 home games for which data is available, Madrid has had at least one shot on goal in every game.
Xavi said that Barca hadn’t changed their style, even though they were missing injured players Andreas Christensen, Pedri, Ousmane Dembele, and Robert Lewandowski. Instead, they were forced to defend by Carlo Ancelotti’s team.
“The other player makes you play that way,” he said. “Today, they had the ball more than we did. We couldn’t find a way to beat that high press with the ball. We had a hard time.
“We could have tied, but we were great on defense. I still think Madrid is strong. At home, they usually have a lot of chances, but they didn’t have many today.”
Before the game, Xavi said that Madrid was the favorite because they were the current LaLiga and Champions League champions. He said that is still the case before the second leg at Camp Nou on April 5.
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Before that, the teams play in LaLiga at Camp Nou on March 19. Xavi’s team is currently seven points ahead of the rest of the league. They have won three of the last four Clasicos.
In Thursday’s win, Barca captain Sergio Busquets passed both Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos to become the player with the most appearances in the history of El Clasico.
Busquets, who is 34 years old, played against Madrid for the 46th time. Messi and Ramos both played 45 times, and he could play against them twice more in the next month.
He told reporters, “I’m happy to have played more Clasicos than anyone else.” “As a player, you love these games. I’ve been lucky to be a member of the best club in the world for a long time, and I still love it.