The only thing sweeter for Barcelona than getting the chance to win a fifth straight Copa del Rey title is getting that chance at Real Madrid's expense.
Luis Suarez scored two goals and was on the doorstep for what wound up being a Raphael Varane own goal all in a dominant second half, as Barcelona routed Real Madrid 3-0 in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal. Barcelona advanced 4-1 on aggregate and will face either Valencia or Real Betis in the final in May.
Real Madrid had the better of the run of play in the first half, with Vinicius Junior especially dangerous for the hosts. After Suarez's 50th-minute opener, Vinicius nearly assisted on an equalizer, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen's sensational save kept Barcelona in front. Suarez and Ousmane Dembele took charge from there, with Suarez adding the exclamation point on a Panenka penalty kick to send Barcelona through.
Here are three thoughts on the first of two Clasicos in four days and one won decisively by Barcelona:
Suarez silences his critics–and the Bernabeu
Oh, the disrespect.
When Suarez stepped up to take the penalty that ended Real Madrid's Copa del Rey hopes, he did so with such swag and such disregard for his opponent. He made a statement that while, yes, it hasn't been his most prolific stretch of games, he's still very much a world-class threat.
Two goals in his previous nine matches and a horrible Champions League showing vs. Lyon sparked more criticism and another round of transfer rumors regarding who his replacement at Camp Nou should be, but he now has goals in two straight and was a thorn for Real Madrid over the final 45 minutes. His movement and clinical finish on Barcelona's first opened the gates for what was to come, and his wherewithal to stay onside and hustle to force the own goal effectively ended the tie, with Barcelona taking the away-goal edge and forcing Real to need three goals in the final 20 minutes to go through.
The penalty, which he earned, was his way of silencing not just the Bernabeu, but those critics who still doubt him. At 32, his prime days are surely behind him, but that doesn't mean he's in for a steep fall.
Dembele, not Messi the chief catalyst for Barcelona
Speaking of a player in critics' crosshairs, Dembele has had his slew of haters since his $154 million move from Borussia Dortmund. The expectations that came with both that fee and that he arrived following Neymar's departure were always going to be difficult to meet, but he's shown flashes of the potential that merited the outlay.
While not perfect on the day, the best of Barcelona's attacks came through his seeking balls from the left–and the one from the right in a rare moment when he changed field to set up the Varane own goal. His giveaways in the first half prevented Barcelona from taking more of a hold on the match, but its clear to see the talent that he possesses when played into space.
On a day when Lionel Messi was largely quiet, it was Dembele that was the chief creative force for Barcelona in one of his better showings of the season.
Real Madrid's potential for disaster
The only thing worse than having Barcelona end Real Madrid's chances at one trophy is the fact that it can effectively happen on a second front in four days. Real Madrid must already know that its La Liga hopes are slim, but with Barcelona not playing with its same unbeatable aura and the head-to-head matchup on Saturday able to shrink the deficit to six with 12 games to go, perhaps the door was still cracked ajar.
You wonder what the psychological impact of Wednesday's result will be, though, with a rematch so soon in the offing. Should the lead balloon to 12 points (or even remain at nine) with another Barcelona result, it would reduce Real Madrid's hopes of any success this season to the Champions League, where it's still alive and seeking a fourth straight European crown. This side doesn't have the look of a champion, though it definitely has some intriguing elements to it.
The frustrating thing about the day for Real Madrid, aside from Messi being a non-factor, was that the chances were there. A lot of them. Winger Vinicius, 18, was sensational up until Barcelona seized control, coming up with five of Real Madrid's six shots in the first half and setting up the other. Left back Sergio Reguilon, 22, was nearly as influential, with the two bossing the game on the left side of the field. It was their connection that nearly pulled Real Madrid level, with Vinicius beating Nelson Semedo (again) before cutting back a cross for Reguilon. His diving header was goal-bound, but Ter Stegen reacted in time, and that was that.
With Gareth Bale and Marcelo benched and Isco left out altogether, it's a trying time for some of Real Madrid's stars of the present, but its future certainly has some bright spots. That future won't include a Copa del Rey final, though, and it almost certainly won't include a title chase down the stretch in Spain.