Xavi once stood for Tiki-Taka like no other player, but after winning the cup in the semi-final first leg at rivals Real Madrid, the FC Barcelona coach had to justify his defensive tactics. “We didn’t reveal a model. We also have to play defensively, that’s part of the game,” said the 43-year-old. However, Xavi also admitted that Barça “couldn’t boast” about the manner of Thursday night’s 1-0 win: “It’s not the game we want.”
The statistics afterwards showed only an unusual 35 percent ball possession for the leaders of the Spanish Primera División. For the weakened Barça team, which had to do without the injured striker Robert Lewandowski, among other things, this is the lowest value in all competitions in ten years. “Barcelona didn’t deserve to win,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti, “I think that’s obvious.”
In this encounter, Barcelona shed “style and DNA” and installed a “manual catenaccio”, wrote the Spanish newspaper “AS”. She was reminiscent of the style that was once coined in Italy: “Barça only knew how to defend.”
“A great defensive performance”
However, the guests around the attentive German national goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen did very well. The visually superior Madrid team fired 13 shots, but none came on target. The last time that happened to the Royals in a competitive game at home was in 2010. And so Eder Militao’s own goal in the 26th minute decided the game at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. The second leg will take place in Barcelona on April 5, but before that the two arch-rivals will meet in the championship on March 19.
“The opponent forced us to play like this,” Xavi explained the defensive style of play of his team, which was once famous for its short passing game. He highlighted the dominance of the two Real midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modríc. “How do you plan to take the ball away from Kroos and Modríc? You have to acknowledge that, it is extraordinary.”
So the 31-time cup winner changed tactics and concentrated primarily on sealing off his own penalty area. It was possible to almost completely take the last outstanding Real attacker Vinícius Júnior out of the game. “Perfect,” enthused Xavi, “Vinícius was hardly in the game. It was a great defensive effort by the whole team.” However, it wasn’t as pretty to look at as the tiki-taka style of the past.