Barcelona beat Real Madrid in El Clasico to a lead in Copa del Rey

An Eder Militao own goal gave depleted Barcelona a surprising 1-0 Clasico win over Real Madrid in their Copa del Rey semifinal first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday. The Catalans arrived on the back of two consecutive defeats, their Europa League playoffs elimination by Manchester United last week and a first-ever loss against La Liga minnows Almeria, Madrid fans smelled a comfortable win but left bitterly frustrated. Despite the Catalans having won the Spanish Super Cup Clasico 3-1 in Saudi Arabia on January 15, Barca’s manager Xavi Hernandez called Madrid favourites ahead of the tie.

The LA Liga leaders came into the match without an injured trio of key players, top scorer Robert Lewandowski, key midfielder Pedri, and explosive winger Ousmane Dembele. Even without three of their top attacking players, Barca went in front before the half-hour when Ferran Torres picked off a poorly played back pass by Madrid and played in Franck Kessie, who had his attempt blocked by Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois only for defender Militao to redirect the rebound into his own net.

Madrid’s star striker Karim Benzema had a goal ruled out, straying offside to receive Vinicius Junior’s cross before Barcelona took a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.

Dani Carvajal wasted a great chance to score an equalizer before half-time, firing over the bar. An interesting first half ended with Barca 1-0 up and Vinicius with a yellow card for taking down Frenkie de Jong in a headlock after a physical battle for the ball between the two.

Ivorian midfielder Kessie nearly made it 2-0 for Barca in the 72nd minute, but his shot from close range from another Torres pass was inexplicably blocked off target by second-half substitute Ansu Fati. Madrid had more of the ball possession but failed to muster a shot on target, while Barcelona defended well.

Barcelona captain Busquets played in his 46th Clasico to surpass former teammate Lionel Messi and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos for most appearances in the game between the clubs. It was an important win that strengthens our team, but we still have the second leg to go, so we are not getting ahead of ourselves yet, Busquets said. I am happy to have played more Clasicos than anyone else, Busquets said.

The two giants will meet again on March 19 in La Liga, where Barca is currently seven points ahead of second-placed Madrid, before the decisive Copa del Rey second leg at Camp Nou on April 5.