In a game of two halves, Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 0-3 in the Copa del Rey.
The match was the Blaugrana’s fourth consecutive win at the Santiago Bernabeu and puts them into their sixth straight Copa del Rey final (they’ve won the last four in a row). What did we learn?
1. Luis Suárez is back in the saddle
Before this weekend, Luis Suárez had been in woeful form for Barcelona. One goal in his previous nine games and a whole host of atrocious performances where he looked simultaneously exhausted and utterly out of control. Then he scored a lovely chip against Sevilla at the weekend, and you wondered if that would kick-start him.
Well, he spent the first 50 minutes of tonight’s match looking much like he has done for a while. He simply wasn’t playing well and it looked like he would continue to cost his side if he stayed on. But then Ousmane Dembélé broke down the right and slipped a delightful low cross in.
Suárez was on it like a hawk, stepping into a delicious side-footed show low, fast and hard into Keylor Navas’ near-post leaving the Costa Rican with no chance. Quick as a flash, it was 0-1 Barça. Then 19 minutes later when Ousmane Dembélé burst down the right, it was Suárez’s run that forced Rafael Varane and Dani Carvajal to lunge at the ball, with the Frenchman turning the ball into his own net.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 27, 2019
Then less than five minutes after that, Suárez capped a period of brilliant counter-attacking football from Barcelona by bursting into the box on the break before tumbling under Casemiro’s challenge. He stood up, dusted himself down, and then hit poor Keylor Navas with a delicious panenka. His 11th goal in just 14 Clásicos. Not a vintage display but a powerful match-winning one. Luis Suárez is back in the saddle.
2. Vinicius is Kid Flash
Pace is one hell of a thing to witness. When a player is stronger than their opponent, that’s easy to understand visually. Even if it’s a smaller player out-muscling a bigger one, our eyes can process that. But pace? When a really fast player gets moving, it looks impossible.
Vinicius Junior is one such player. The Brazilian is utterly breathtaking to witness. With the ball at his feet he’s as raw as any normal 18-year-old. He has moments of great intelligence but also moments of technical failing. Nothing special. But when he runs with the ball?
When he runs with the ball you stand up and take notice. Vinicius is absurdly fast, what’s more, he can go from slow to fast in the blink of an eye. Tonight at the Bernabeu he repeatedly tore Barcelona to piece with his terrifying pace. No one in blaugrana could keep up with him and a buzz rippled around the Santiago Bernabeu whenever he got the ball. The only negative here, and the reason why he’s only Kid Flash instead of full-on The Flash, is because his technical failing and rawness consistently got in his way tonight as he missed countless chances after doing so much great work to create those chances for himself with supreme skill and speed.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel: sqwk.at/Squawka-Sub
3. Ousmane Dembélé is the difference
Barcelona’s spine is legendary, it’s also pretty old and seriously lacking in pace. In truth, besides both full-backs, the only forward player that starts with any regularity is Ousmane Dembélé. He’s the only one who has the speed and skill to make the kind of incisive runs that used to be Barcelona’s bread and butter out wide.
That’s an enormous burden to carry, but one that the Frenchman seems at ease with. Even tonight when Madrid’s Vinicius Junior was the highlight of the night, constantly using his pace to torch Barcelona defenders, Dembélé never felt the need to “compete” or try and humiliate Los Blancos with his own searing pace. He simply bided his time, picked the right moments, and struck like a viper.
His runs in behind for the first two goals were keyed off by subtle little leans that tipped the passer off. The ball was fed into space and Dembélé chewed the ground up, got his head up, and twice perfectly picked out Luis Suárez in the box for the Uruguayan to score. After this the game so vastly opened up that had he stayed on, Dembélé could have bagged more goals or assists, but such is his importance to the Blaugrana that Ernesto Valverde hauled him off, keeping him protected for this weekend’s rematch.
4. Regal Reguilón
Marcelo is one of the most delightful left-backs to have ever played the game. A gift of a player who is just wonderful to watch and who has been a key component of every single bit of Real Madrid’s success since he’s been at the club. But his time is over.
Marcelo’s form this season has been a problem, defensively he’s been a disaster and he’s no longer doing enough in attack to make up the difference. The only reason he’s remained in contention is because his replacement, Sergio Reguilon, has been so average.
Not tonight. Tonight the 22-year-old Castilla graduate was absolutely regal. He defended solidly and attacked with furious intent. All night long he was bombing up and down the touchline, providing excellent width, great crosses and he even had one of Madrid’s best chances of the night when he headed a cross on target.
5. Boring Barça might become brilliant
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to see why many call Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona boring. They play with the same kind of stoic efficiency they did last season except now they’re a side loaded with offensive talent. It’s frustrating to watch. Moreover, Valverde regularly does stuff like start Sergi Roberto alongside Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, leading to a midfield that doesn’t advance the ball sharply enough and is too easily contained by two lines of four.
Basically if Leo Messi, Ousmane Dembélé or Luis Suárez (or Jordi Alba, bizarrely enough) don’t do something special, then the game may well end 0-0. It was telling that three of the above four combined for pretty much all the goals today, just a few days after Messi carried the whole team by himself with a hat-trick against Sevilla.
But here’s the thing: Boring Barça just got Arthur back from injury. The Brazilian is a wonderful midfielder who facilitates a much more advanced possession game (think Barcelona winning at Wembley) and will move the Blaugrana midfield 10 yards further forward. Moreover at the back Samuel Umtiti is finally fit again and the dynamic range he offers in defence and his ability to cover for both Alba and Piqué is another factor that will allow Valverde to deploy his defensive line higher up the field.
Couple those two switches with the rising form of Ousmane Dembélé, the return to form of Luis Suárez and the everlasting genius of Leo Messi and Ernesto Valverde’s FC Borecelona might be about to become the bafflingly brilliant FC Barcelona that everyone so badly wants them to be. And if that happens, it’s bad news for the rest of Europe, and especially so for Real Madrid who have to play them again on Saturday.