A Clasico final to conclude this year’s Copa del Rey looks like a strong possibility after Barcelona comfortably beat 10-man Real Sociedad in the first leg of their semi-final on Wednesday.
Having seen archrivals Real Madrid produce a 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in the other semi-final earlier in the night, an icebreaker from Sergio Busquets and a ludicrous own goal from Sociedad ensured Barcelona romped to a 2-0 victory in their own tie to enhance the prospect of a mouth-watering finale.
Despite having less than 20 percent of the possession for much of the match, Sociedad did have some chances—particularly in the opening stages—to get an away goal that would have given them a real chance heading into the second leg in San Sebastian. But hopes of such a strike essentially dissolved following Inigo Martinez’s red card for dissent just before half-time.
The defender seemed to complain too vociferously at the referee’s failure to avoid Carlos Vela a penalty after he seemed to be dragged down by Javier Mascherano, a decision magnified moments later when Barcelona went back up the other end and Busquets scored with a clinical far post strike.
With the numerical disadvantage, Sociedad slipped deeper into their own half in the second stanza, with Elustondo's ridiculous own goal meaning much of their deficit was self-inflicted.
"We wanted to score more goals given that we had an extra man and we could have scored more but it's a very favourable result," midfielder Xavi said afterwards, per The Guardian. "We haven't conceded a goal at home and that's also a point very much in our favour."
Despite the home side’s overall dominance of the contest, it was Sociedad who started brighter and had the game’s first chance. Clearly set up to try and pick something on the counter-attack, it took Antoine Griezmann just three minutes to force a fine save from Jose Pinto, as his powerful 20-yard drive threatened to find the net.
That start apart, Lionel Messi was the game’s defining force in the first half as he so often is. Impressing early on with one brilliant nutmeg, the Argentine then signaled the start of Barcelona’s sustained threat as he crashed a free-kick off the outside of the post.
Not long after Barcelona were ahead—although it came after a dangerous Sociedad attack again—Vela appeared to be pulled down just as he shot at goal having burst clean through, with Pinto making a fine save with his leg as the ball was quickly moved back upfield.
The ball eventually went out from a corner and, when the delivery evaded everyone at the near post, Busquets was in the right spot to spin and turn his shot inside the far post.
There are over 60,000 empty seats at the Camp Nou tonight. A 10pm kickoff doesn’t help, but it's a cup semifinal. pic.twitter.com/SEcTWYH2iR— Eric Beard (@BeardEric) February 5, 2014
Coming as it did on the stroke of half-time it was already a good moment for Barcelona to score, but Sociedad’s pain was compounded as Martinez earned his marching orders. Clearly incensed at the decision not to award a penalty, the defender let his temper get the better of him and was sent for an early bath.
Fifteen minutes after half-time Barcelona doubled their advantage, and it was another self-inflicted wound from Sociedad. The danger seemed to have been averted when Alexis Sanchez saw his low drive bounce away off the far post, but that was before poor Elustondo got onto the ball.
Through a mixture of panic and uncertainty over where Alexis was lingering, the defender decided to fire his clearance across goal—and was only able to look on in horror as it hit the goalkeeper Zubikarai and found the back of the net.
Although Barcelona continued to press—Messi forced a couple of good saves from Zubikarai, while Fabregas also threatened—another goal was not forthcoming.
Sociedad, in front of their home fans, may still feel they have a chance of producing a remarkable turnaround, although their chances might have been even better had Elustondo been a bit less careless.
The second leg takes place next week. In between, La Liga commitments take precedence—with Barcelona visiting Sevilla and Sociedad hosting Levante.