Real Madrid will take a small aggregate advantage back to the Santiago Bernabeu in their Clasico tie with Barcelona in the semi final of the Copa del Rey, after the honours were shared at the Nou Camp.
Lucas Vazquez gave the visitors their early lead with a cute finish after some wonderful control and poise from the in-form Karim Benzema at the byline.
After a sloppy start, in which they allowed far too many counter attacks with unforced errors, Barca slowly crept back into the game in the first half and could’ve had an equaliser when Ivan Rakitic rattled a header onto the bar.
But Madrid remained the better footballing side throughout that first period, crafting moves with far better build up play than La Blaugrana could muster.
The second half prompted somewhat of a retreat from the visitors and this finally told in the 57th minute as Barcelona capitalised with an equaliser through Malcom, after he smartly thumped in the rebound from Luis Suarez’s effort.
Both sides had their chances towards the end, with some excellent football in patches, but despite Madrid’s slight edge, it’s still all to play for at the end of the month.
Key Talking Point
The biggest talking point before, during, and probably after the game will be the use, or lack thereof, of Lionel Messi.
For the first time since December the 11th, Lionel Messi has played a game and not scored or assisted.
Both games coming off the bench. pic.twitter.com/eiH4q7YKbJ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 6, 2019
Even though it was Malcom, his likely stand-in, who got the equaliser, fans were still clamouring for their messiah as his teammates largely struggled for end product.
Though his benching was a precautionary measure following his injury scare against Valencia, and may prove wise come the second leg, there’s no denying he was dearly lacking on Wednesday night.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (7); Semedo (7), Pique (5), Lenglet (7), Alba (7); Rakitic (6), Busquets (7), Arthur (8); Malcom (8*), Suarez (7), Coutinho (6).
Substitutes: Vidal (7), Messi (7), Alena (6).
STAR MAN – Once again, Arthur added to his burgeoning portfolio with an esteemed showing in just his second Clasico, but it was the man making his maiden appearance in the fixture, Malcom, who stole the headlines.
Though he could be accused of a little profligacy in the opening stages, especially with one chance that was wrongly ruled offside, and would’ve thus been overturned by VAR had he scored, he was still his side’s most dangerous outlet. All in all, a strong, confident performance from a player who’s been down on his luck for most of his career in Spain thus far.
WORST PLAYER – Gerard Pique. The 32-year-old looked far older than that with some of the challenges and passes he made, and couldn’t contain the rampaging Vinicius, or the less rapid but more conniving Benzema.
Key Talking Point
With all the harking back to that disastrous 5-1 loss in the last Clasico, Madrid’s comparatively stoic showing this time around should be cause for pride in Santiago Solari’s team.
However, given their authority in the opening stages, and even the chances they had toward the back end of the second half, they really could’ve returned to the capital with a goal or two’s advantage going into the second leg.
Still, it cemented their impressive start to 2019 and will cast a warning around Europe that they remain the team to beat in the Champions League when all is said and done.
Starting XI: Navas (8); Carvajal (7), Varane (6), Ramos (5), Marcelo (6); Modric (8), Llorente (7), Kroos (7); Vazquez (7), Benzema (8*),Vinicius (6).
Karim Benzema masterclass on that goal.
— Lucas Navarrete (@LucasNavarreteM) February 6, 2019
Substitutes: Casemiro (6), Bale (5), Asensio (N/A).
STAR MAN – Karim Benzema. The Frenchman has practically been born again since the turn of the year, and his incredible run of form was not curtailed by the occasion. His touch for the opener was truly exquisite, and he ran the lines admirably throughout.
There’s still plenty of life left in the 31-year-old yet.
WORST PLAYER – Just like his former central defensive partner in the national team, Sergio Ramos was a liability for his team.
As ever, he could’ve been sent off at least twice, for a series of bookable offences following his early yellow card, but it was the way he got himself into those uneasy situations that was so uninspiring. Looks well past his best, even if he remains a totemic leader.
With the second leg set for February 27, both sides have La Liga and Champions League duties to contend with in the interim.
Barca face Athletic Bilbao this weekend, with the hosting of Valladolid preceding the first leg of their last 16 tie with Lyon.
Meanwhile, it’s one derby after another for Real, as they travel to the Wanda Metropolitano to play cross-town rivals Atletico before their first leg with Ajax in Amsterdam.