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Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images
Barcelona are out of the Spanish Super Cup at the semi-final stage thanks to a painful 3-2 loss in extra-time to Real Madrid in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Barça played their hearts out and took the best team in Spain to the limit in all 120 minutes of a thrilling El Clásico, but as they’ve done all season Madrid found a way to win and will move on to Sunday’s Final.

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FIRST HALF

With both teams having improved a lot since their meeting last October, the hope was for a better game played at a highher level. What we got instead was a bit disappointing: Barça had most of the possession but weren’t too good with it, while Madrid limited themselves to trying to score on the counter attack. There was very little intensity from both sides, and the Blaugrana’s defense was all over the place thanks to some disorganized pressing.

Madrid had the better scoring chances, all of them on the counter, and one of them resulted in the opening goal when Sergio Busquets fell asleep in midfield and lost the ball to Karim Benzema, who eventually fed Vinicius Junior inside the box and the Brazilian scored with his left foot to give Madrid the lead.

Barça did respond well to going behind and finally had a couple of shots on target with two headers from Luuk De Jong that went straight at Thibaut Courtois. But the Blaugrana showed very little creativity and would need some luck to find a goal, and somehow they got it when Luuk De Jong showed excellent effort and blocked an attempted clearance by Éder Militão, redirecting the ball into the Madrid net to make it 1-1.

At halftime, a disappointing game was all square and neither team looked good enough to win it, and truly anything could happen in the second half.

SECOND HALF

Xavi did a very good job in the halftime interval: his team talk clearly inspired the players to come out with a different level of intensity and passion to start his second half, and his substitutions helped as well with the returning Pedri looking fantastic in his first game back after four months out with injury.

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The Blaugrana went from wasteful and uncreative to incisive and dangerous in attack, and they did a better job pressing without the ball to stop Madrid counters. Barça were clearly the better team and deserved to take the lead, but they conceded against the run of play instead: after forcing an amazing save out of Marc-André ter Stegen, Karim Benzema never gave up on the play and found the back of the net after Daniel Carvajal’s shot was deflected into the Frenchman’s path.

Barça once again showed great fighting spirit and amped up the pressure even more as they looked for an equalizer. Xavi changed formation to a 3-3-4 and encouraged everyone to go forward, and the Catalans pushed hard for an equalizer. And with seven minutes to go, they got it: after a short corner routine Jordi Alba played a glorious cross into the six-yard box and Ansu Fati was there all alone to head the ball home.

Neither team wanted to risk going out in the dying seconds so nothing happened until the final whistle, and El Clásico was headed to extra-time.

EXTRA-TIME

The one downside of Barça’s comeback ahead of extra-time was that it left the team in a very vulnerable shape with just three defenders, and they could be exposed to a counter attack eventually. And that’s what happened eight minutes into the period when Madrid found themselves in a 4-on-2 break, and Rodrygo found Valverde all alone inside the box to make it 3-2.

The last 20 minutes of extra-time were all about Barça’s attempt at a third comeback on the night, and they certainly tried and had some good moments but ultimately failed to beat Courtois for a third time. The final whistle came and Madrid are off to the Final where they’ll meet either Athletic Bilbao and Atlético Madrid, while Barça will travel back to Catalonia to enjoy a rare weekend off to prepare for the weeks ahead.

But they should leave Saudi Arabia with their heads held high. Is this team perfect? Not even close, but they are better than they were before Xavi took over and they gave Madrid 120 minutes of hell. They should be proud, and fans should too.

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves (Nico 78’), Araujo, Piqué, Alba; Gavi (Memphis 78’), Busquets, F. De Jong (Pedri 46’); Torres (Ez Abde 46’ (Jutglà 110’)), L. De Jong (Fati 66’), Dembélé

Goals: L. De Jong (41’), Ansu Fati (83’)

Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal (Vázquez 91’), Militão, Nacho, Mendy; Modric (Valverde 83’), Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio (Rodrygo 68’), Benzema, Vinicius (Camavinga 110’)