Barcelona is slowly finding its way again, but Real Madrid still has more quality. That was the verdict of the first El Clasico of the calendar year in a Supercopa semifinal which saw Real Madrid emerge 3-2 winners in extra time.

The decisive goal was scored in extra time by substitute Federico Valverde, who finished a deadly breakaway and put Madrid up to stay. Forwards Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior gave Real Madrid two separate leads during regulation with quality strikes, only for Barcelona to fight back through a lucky Luuk de Jong deflection and an Ansu Fati header with seven minutes left.

Real Madrid advances to Sunday’s Supercopa final in Saudi Arabia, where the La Liga leaders will face either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao. The Spanish Supercopa pits the winner and runner-up of La Liga against the winner and runner-up of the Copa del Rey cup competition.

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Real Madrid continues to march on in a dominant season so far under manager Carlo Ancelotti. It has a five-point lead in La Liga — 17 points ahead of Barcelona — and the Merengues are also in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 and the Copa del Rey Round of 16. They’ll hope to come away with the first piece of silverware of the season in the Supercopa final on Sunday.

Barcelona will leave Saudi Arabia content with its display as it continues to make progress under Xavi Hernandez. The team showed character to bounce back and it gained confidence as the minutes went on. Ousmane Dembele and Luuk de Jong made solid contributions in attack, and Ansu Fati had another moment of magic.

Ferran Torres made his debut for Barcelona as a starter in the match, but he had a quiet first half playing on the right wing of a three-man front. Two important players made their return for the Blaugrana: Rising star Pedri played his first match since September, and Ansu Fati was back for his first action since Nov. 6.

Barcelona reaction to Clasico loss
“For the first 20 minutes we still showed a complex from recent times, but we got rid of those complexes and we competed,” said Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez. “We’re not so far from what the La Liga standings reflect.

“We had it. We had it. It was a game that was a coin flip and it turned out one way, but it could’ve turned out another. We’re proud. We competed and we have to continue on this path.

“Although the result is a bad one, and we’re going home, we’re leaving proud. We had the game. I’m leaving sad and angry because we could have won the game. But we competed well and could have advanced to the final. It’s a pity.”

Gerard Pique struck a similar tone to his head coach in his postgame interview: “I think as far as the level of play, we were good. We took risks. We went after the game, we took on a lot of risks. In the end they won the semifinal on a counter on which we could’ve gotten back [to defend]. They came with numbers in the box and scored the third. But I’m very, very proud of the team. Playing like this, we [Barcelona] can begin to win and compete for titles.”

Real Madrid goal-scoring hero Valverde was impressed by what he saw from the opponents: “They’re still Barcelona even if the results haven’t been there. They’re a good team with good players and they showed they have a desire to win … In my opinion, I think we have to convert more of the chances that we get. We could’ve finished off the game earlier. That’s part of the game, and things we can improve on.”


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