At the Bernabeu, despite the visitors having the majority of the possession and chances, an own goal by Eder Militao separated the teams.
After losing to Manchester United in the Europa League and Almeria in La Liga, Barca is happy with the outcome.
After grabbing the lead, Xavi’s team played aggressive defense, and their focus gained them a slim advantage going into the second leg at the Nou Camp on April 5.
Barca’s defense digs deep
Although Barca is in first place in La Liga, Xavi’s team will have been vulnerable going into the game after being eliminated from Europe and suffering a shocking league loss the previous weekend.
Five changes were made to the starting lineup by the former midfielder, including a completely different back four.
Vinicius Jr.’s headlock on Frenkie de Jong in the first exchange was memorable, but it was the visitors who eventually claimed the lead—and under absurd circumstances.
Franck Kessie’s shot during Barca’s opening attempt was stopped by Thibaut Courtois, but it rebounded off Militao and went into the goal.
In attempting to clear the ball off the line, his colleague center back Nacho failed to spare his teammate’s blushes. Although Raphinha went ahead of schedule, he wasn’t interfering with the game, and Kessie was level, the video assistant referee overturned the initial offside ruling.
In 23 league games this season, Barca’s defense has only given up eight goals, and despite significant personnel changes, the backline held firm once more on Thursday.
Without injured Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele, the visitors’ assault was generally impotent, though they easily could have added a second goal if Ansu Fati hadn’t stopped teammate Kessie’s goal-bound attempt.
A former Premier League player, ex-Leeds winger Raphinha, was mostly unnoticed, as was former Manchester City attacker Ferran Torres, who joined the Catalan club last January.
The club Xavi is now guiding know how to get the job done – at least in domestic football. But, the performance had few characteristics of the great Barca side Xavi coordinated as a player.
Madrid struggles to turn possession into points
Before the game began, there was a tense atmosphere caused by Madrid supporters demonstrating outside the stadium about Barcelona’s payments to a former Spanish referees’ boss.
Real undoubtedly came out of the gate fired up, possibly still smarting from a subpar effort in their rivals’ Super Cup loss in January.
When Carlo Ancelotti’s squad finds its rhythm, as Liverpool did last week, they can completely dominate any opponent, and in the early going, it looked like that may be the case.
After eluding the offside rule and shooting wide in the opening minute, Karim Benzema beautifully handled and volleyed in a chipped Vinicius Jr. cross, but he was a yard offside.
The closest the home team got to an equalizer was Federico Valverde’s lofted second-half shot, which Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved.
Madrid dominated possession until the very end, but to keep Barca from advancing toward a domestic trophy triple, they will need to overcome the gap at the home of their fiercest rivals.