BARCELONA — Ousmane Dembele’s strike, capping a brilliant individual display, helped Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Wednesday, and reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
The French forward struck in the 52nd minute to power the record 31-time cup-winners through against 10-man La Real, who had Brais Mendez sent off late in the first half.
Barcelona have enjoyed a strong start to 2023, winning the Spanish Super Cup and moving three points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and continued it in a pulsating cup clash.
Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad have thrilled in the league, sitting third, but were missing veteran playmaker David Silva and Mikel Merino through injury.
“(Dembele) had a great game, we know what a great player he is,” Barcelona defender Araujo told Movistar.
“He helps us with goals, he’s taking good decisions, that’s the most important thing, something that maybe was tricky for him at the beginning.”
Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez, on his 43rd birthday, guided his team to a nervy victory.
The Catalans came out of the blocks quickly and Robert Lewandowski had an effort blocked after the electric Dembele found him.
Gavi fired wide and Frenkie de Jong deflected in another strike but from an offside position and the goal was disallowed.
At the other end Takefusa Kubo crashed a shot against the crossbar, as the game ebbed and flowed in entertaining fashion.
Barcelona fans frequently showed their ire towards referee Jesus Gil Manzano in the first half — he was the official who sent off Lewandowski against Osasuna in November, resulting in a ban which the Pole is still serving in La Liga.
However it was Real Sociedad midfielder Mendez who was sent off at Camp Nou on Wednesday, just before half time.
The Spaniard lunged in on Sergio Busquets, catching his compatriot with his studs above the ankle.
Early in the second half Barcelona broke the deadlock when Jules Kounde slid Dembele in down the right wing and he drove into the box and lashed the ball past Alex Remiro at the near post.
It was the French forward’s third goal in six games and another sign of his superb form under Xavi.
Dembele has found a coach who believes in him and, after signing a new deal last summer, has become vital at Barcelona.
Real Sociedad, despite their numerical disadvantage, battled well and should have levelled when Sorloth fired over from only a couple of yards out.
The Norwegian striker had netted five goals in his previous six games and looked aghast at his miss.
Gavi struck the bar after more good work by Dembele as Barcelona tried and failed to put the game to bed.
“There are a lot of games that we can put to bed earlier, we will try to work on that,” said Barcelona defender Alejandro Balde.
“We are in very good form and we just have to kill off these situations.”
Barcelona survived two late scares after Ter Stegen gave the ball away but then saved from Robert Navarro and produced another fine stop to deny Jon Ander Olasagasti.
Osasuna were facing Sevilla later Wednesday while on Thursday Real Madrid host Atletico Madrid and Valencia welcome Athletic Club in the other quarter-finals. — AFP