Karim Benzema scored a second consecutive hat-trick as Real Madrid hammered Barcelona 4-0 at Spotify Camp Nou on Wednesday to set up a Copa del Rey final against Osasuna in May.
Benzema, who also netted a treble against Real Valladolid at the weekend, scored three times in the second half to silence the home crowd of over 94,000 and book Madrid's place in their first domestic cup final since 2014.
Vinicius Jr. had earlier opened the scoring on the stoke of half-time to level the tie on aggregate after Barcelona's narrow 1-0 win in the first leg of the Copa semifinal last month.
1. Madrid end Clasico drought to reach final
Barcelona had won the last three meetings between the two sides and started the game well despite missing four of their key Players in Andreas Christensen, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele through injury. Despite zipping the ball around nicely, though, they lacked a punch in the final third in a match, which threatened to spill over at times. Gavi and Vinicius nearly came to blows in a fiery first half.
Alejandro Balde was a threat at left-back and it was his cross which almost led to an opening goal. Robert Lewandowski's crisp shot was saved by Thibaut Courtois, though, and 30 seconds later Madrid led. Vinicius broke and his shot, after collecting the ball from Benzema, squeezed over the line despite the best efforts of Jules Kounde to keep it out.
Madrid led on the night, but the tie was level on aggregate. A raucous home crowd, who had earlier chanted Lionel Messi's name amid rumours of a possible return, tried to rally their team after the break. It had little effect, though, as Barca fell apart. Luka Modric set up Benzema for the second and a Franck Kessie foul on Vinicius gave the Frenchman the chance to score his second from the penalty spot and sentence the tie.
Benzema's third goal came late on with space increasingly opening up as Barca desperately chased something. It is Madrid, therefore, who advance to the final against Osasuna in Seville in May. They will go into that game as massive favourites, nine years since they last won this competition.
2. Benzema fuelling hopes of a cup double
Real Madrid's defeat to Barca just before the international break in LaLiga left Los Blancos 12 points behind them in LaLiga. The league title, no one would argue, is almost certainly heading back to Camp Nou for the first time since 2019.
However, this win keeps the balance of power between the two Clasico rivals relatively even after it had appeared to be shifting in Barca's favour.
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More importantly, though, it keeps Madrid on track for a cup double. In addition to the Copa del Rey final, they are still in the fight for the Champions League. Next week, they host Chelsea in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie as they look to retain the trophy.
With Benzema in this form, they cannot be ruled out. This was his first-ever hat-trick against Barcelona and his second in four days, suggesting his form is peaking just at the right moment. He now has 25 goals in all competitions and is supported by the brilliant Vinicius. The Brazilian's goal here saw him join Mohamed Salah as the only Players from Europe's top five leagues with at least 20 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season.
3. Will LaLiga success be enough for Barca?
Barca were their own worst enemy at times on Wednesday. They conceded on the stroke of half-time when perhaps they should have been focused on getting to the break with their first leg lead in tact. They then fell apart in the second half with a performance not dissimilar from some of their recent humiliations in Europe.
The Copa del Rey is not Barcelona's priority and LaLiga is considered much more important, but being dumped out by rivals Real Madrid -- and in such an emphatic manner at home -- will hurt a lot. Especially so if Madrid now go on to win the competition -- Barca fans won't even want to imagine Madrid ending the campaign with another European trophy.
It slightly shifts the narrative on their league success. While they are sailing to a first domestic title in four years, they have now come up short in the Champions League, the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, dumped out by Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Manchester United and now Madrid.
Super Cup success against Madrid and LaLiga form shows improvement, but there is plenty of room for improvement and reflection before next year.
Best and worst performers
Best: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Put on another clinic in taking your chances as he bagged a second hat-trick this week.
Best: Luka Modric, Real Madrid
Took a while to get going but took control of the midfield in the second half. Set up the second goal.
Best: Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid
Didn't have lots to do but commanded his box well, claiming crosses, and made a the vital save from Lewandowski which led to the opening goal on the break.
Worst: Raphinha, Barcelona
Could not beat Eduardo Camavinga and was no where near the threat he was when these two sides met two weeks ago.
Worst: Marcos Alonso, Barcelona
Was never expected to be at the level of the injured Christensen, who he replaced, but even beyond that he made far too many basic errors.
Worst: Sergi Roberto, Barcelona
Brushed off by Modric too easily for the second Madrid goal and proved a downgrade on the absent De Jong and Pedri.
Highlights and notable moments
Barcelona came into Wednesday's match with the upper hand, having won the first leg 1-0, and at home at Camp Nou, they were intent to keep the pressure up.
But that would be their undoing, as a failed attack allowed Real Madrid to spring the other direction on the counter-attack to score.
WHAT A COUNTER FROM REAL MADRID!
BENZEMA GIVES THEM A 1-0 LEAD IN EL CLASICO AFTER A WILD SEQUENCE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/j4OfdLTSXg— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 5, 2023
It didn't take long for Karim Benzema to double Real Madrid's lead.
With seemingly acres of space, Benzema slotted it home in the 50th minute.
KARIM BENZEMA MAKES IT 2-0!
REAL MADRID HAVE TURNED THIS TIE ON ITS HEAD 🤯 pic.twitter.com/dNRR6SHnqX— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 5, 2023
Benzema then buried a penalty kick for a brace, putting Real Madrid up 3-0.
But the French striker was not done yet. In the 80th minute, he completed his first-ever hat trick against Barcelona.
BENZEMA WITH BACK-TO-BACK HAT TRICKS 🔥
REAL MADRID HAVE TORN APART BARCELONA 😨 pic.twitter.com/j4W4JKTpf0— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 5, 2023
After the match: What the managers and Players said
Post-match quotes will appear here when available. Please check back shortly...
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Benzema scored his 16th goal for Real Madrid in El Clásicos, breaking a tie with Raúl for the thirrd-most in team history. Cristiano Ronaldo and Alfredo Di Stéfano (18) have more.
Barcelona have only had a shutout in 20% of the games played vs. Real Madrid this season, compared to 62% vs. all other opponents.
Barcelona: Barça resume their LaLiga campaign, hosting Girona on Monday, April 10 (stream live on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET).
Real Madrid: Los Blancos continue to chase Barcelona in the LaLiga title race when Real Madrid hosts Villarreal on Saturday, April 8 (stream live on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET).