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Winners & Losers

Take that, Dembele doubters! Barcelona winners, losers and ratings as once-hated winger stars in Copa del Rey victory vs Real Sociedad

01:45 EAT 26/01/2023
Ousmane Dembele Barcelona Real Sociedad Copa del Rey celebrate 2022-23
Ousmane Dembele scored the winner and dominated the game as Barcelona edged 10-man Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday.

At this time last year, Camp Nou supporters showered Dembele with boos as his contract extension talks came to a standstill. Fans jeered when he touched the ball and whistled when he misplaced a pass, even as Xavi pleaded with them to be nice.

With just a couple of months left on his deal, it appeared Dembele would leave Barcelona a villian.

But on Wednesday night, the crowd screamed Dembele's name as he turned in a match-winning performance for the Blaugrana, starring throughout as they beat Real Sociedad 1-0 to advance to the Copa del Rey semi-final. They ended the visitors' club record nine-game winning streak in the process.

Dembele, now under a new contract signed in a dramatic U-turn last summer, came close to scoring after 20 minutes, curling a shot just outside the post.

Real Sociedad midfielder Brais Mendez then crushed a spirited response from his team to that early warning when he was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Sergio Busquets just before half-time.

And Barca, with the help of their French winger, punished them shortly after the break. Dembele sprinted down the right channel and ran onto a perfectly weighted pass from Jules Kounde, before beating Alex Remiro at his near post for a 1-0 lead. Sociedad came close to an equaliser, with Alexander Sorloth firing over from close range, but the Blaugrana were otherwise relatively stable in a 1-0 win.

It all underlined a major turnaround for Dembele, who seemed so likely to leave Barcelona just a year ago and was slammed by many fans as a result. Injuries and up-and-down performances hadn't helped matters.

But he's been much better since that turning point, and Wednesday offered another look at his ability to be one of the world's best when healthy.

  • Ousmane Dembele celebrate Barcelona Real Sociedad Copa del Rey 2022-23

    The Winners

    Ousmane Dembele:

    Dembele will have one of these games every so often. It usually starts with a flick of some kind, maybe a backheel or no-look pass. And, after 15 minutes, he's gliding through the defence, winding inside and out, and creating opportunities. He should've had a goal and assist to his name in the first half, curling a shot narrowly wide before setting up Frenkie de Jong perfectly, only for the Dutchman to miss. But he was rewarded in the second, opening the scoring for Barca with a lashed strike at the near post. Of La Liga players to reach double figures for both goals and assists in all competitions since the start of 2022, Dembele is tied for second with 28, behind only Vinicius Junior.

    Jules Kounde:

    The French international put in a series of memorable performances at right-back in the World Cup. He hasn't quite replicated that form so far for Barca, with a series of agreeable, if unremarkable, showings since his return. Wednesday night, though, he was back to his best. Kounde was improved in possession, and typically reliable at the back. He grabbed himself an assist for a wonderful pass to Dembele and could've grabbed himself a goal after narrowly curling a shot wide in the first half.

    Alejandro Balde:

    Although Barcelona manager Xavi refuses to make an official call on the left-back competition between Jordi Alba and Alejandro Balde, it certainly seems to be that Balde is the favoured option right now. The 19-year-old got the nod over Alba in Barca's new setup, given freedom to bomb down the wing in a more attacking role. Interestingly, it's the exact setup that Alba used to thrive in; the role allows a player to get forward with few defensive responsibilities. The Copa del Rey, although important, isn't exactly Barca's priority, so it might not be wise to read too much into Balde's inclusion. But this appeared to be Barca's strongest lineup, and he was on the pitch. And that surely counts for something.

  • Brias Mendez Real Sociedad Barcelona Copa del Rey 2022-23

    The Losers

    Brais Mendez:

    What a strange performance from the Sociedad midfielder. Mendez was immense for 35 minutes, winning tackles, recycling possession and exercising just enough gamesmanship to keep the masterful Pedri quiet. And then he threw it all away. He was shown his marching orders for a silly tackle on Busquets, driving his studs into the Barcelona captain's shin well after he had released the ball. It seemed to be an act of retaliation for a foul Robert Lewandowski had committed a few minutes before, but it was hardly a proportional response. Sociedad were in the game before Mendez was sent off; his antics removed them from it.

    Robert Lewandowski:

    Lewandowski has bagged four goals in his last three games, a typically prolific return. But he endured a rough showing on Wednesday night. He had four shots but lashed two wide, including one volley sent high into the stands. His passing wasn't as fluid as usual, either, as the former Bayern man overhit a few crosses and failed to connect with Dembele on a handful of occasions. It ultimately didn't matter; his team won regardless. But this was one to forget for one of Europe's best.

    Alexander Sorloth:

    It seemed harder to miss. Sorloth did almost everything right in a well-constructed move that would have been the equaliser for Sociedad. He dropped deep to draw out a defender, timed his run into the six-yard box. And then, he flicked his attempt over the bar with the goal gaping. It was a comically bad and vital miss for the striker, who has been enjoying a solid season so far. His blunder proved to be crucial, too, as Sociedad had few other chances for the remainder of the night. An evening to forget.

  • Ronald Araujo Barcelona Real Sociedad Copa del Rey 2022-23

    Barcelona Ratings: Defence

    Marc Andre ter Stegen (7/10):

    Made a terrible error that almost cost his team a goal, but redeemed himself with a top save.

    Jules Kounde (8/10):

    Won headers, kept Sorloth quiet, provided an assist. His best game since the World Cup.

    Ronald Araujo (7/10):

    Typically reliable, and ever improving in possession. Pinged a few longer passes, which is undoubtedly encouraging for Xavi.

    Andreas Christensen (6/10):

    Had little to do defensively, but lost Sorloth and almost cost his team a goal.

    Alejandro Balde (7/10):

    Given the nod over Jordi Alba again in Barca's modified 4-3-3. Ran loads, linked up with Gavi well. More to come.

  • Frenkie de Jong Barcelona Real Sociedad Copa del Rey 2022-23

    Midfield

    Pedri (6/10):

    Aggressive in the first half, sort of disappeared in the second. He'll have better games. He's 20.

    Sergio Busquets (7/10):

    Left his mark on the game with some heavy first half tackles. Faded as the game went on. His lack of legs is a real concern when play opens up.

    Frenkie de Jong (7/10):

    Reliable, satisfying to watch, but should've scored.

  • Robert Lewandowski Barcelona Real Sociedad Copa del Rey 2022-23

    Attack

    Ousmane Dembele (8/10):

    Electric from the start. Curled one effort narrowly wide and created a golden chance for De Jong. Got his reward with a well-taken goal. What a turnaround.

    Robert Lewandowski (6/10):

    Far from his best. Mistimed some crosses, overhit some passes and shanked a volley. Poor night. But that is allowed when you're Robert Lewandowski.

    Gavi (8/10):

    Played as the inverted winger again, and seemed to grow into the spot. Started things with a lovely backheel inside 10 minutes, but his influence waned in the second half. Did loads of dirty work, though.

  • Ansu Fati Barcelona bench Copa del Rey 2022-23

    Subs & Manager

    Franck Kessie (5/10):

    On the pitch for 15 minutes, touched the ball seven times.

    Raphinha (6/10):

    Tried an elastico, didn't work. Already linked with a move away, though Dembele's arc offers an example of why big teams shouldn't be rash.

    Ansu Fati (N/A):

    No time to make an impact.

    Marcos Alonso (N/A)

    Didn't complete a pass.

    Xavi (7/10):

    Xavi went for his four-centre midfielder formation again, and it worked out - even if he didn't get the best out of Gavi and Pedri. The Bluagrana were steady defensively, and grabbed a crucial goal. They will need to start putting some chances away, but when Lewandowski is back at it, Barca will be fine. On to another semi-final.