MADRID: Real Madrid gained a measure of redemption at the Camp Nou by holding Barcelona to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday and taking the upper-hand in the semi-final of Copa del Rey.
Neither Lionel Messi nor Gareth Bale were named in the starting line-ups for this first leg but their replacements filled the void as Malcom’s curling shot cancelled out an early opener from Lucas Vazquez.
After an impressive opening 20 minutes, Madrid were largely second best in a compelling, if unspectacular, Clasico but the result leaves them well-placed heading into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on February 27.
For Santiago Solari’s side, a resilient, gutsy display will also help erase the memory of their humiliation here in October, when they were thrashed 5-1, a result that caused Julen Lopetegui to be sacked the following day.
“Comparisons are unhelpful,” said Solari. “But this result shows how hard the team is working.”
Messi, who had been struggling with a thigh problem, and Bale, who faces a fight for place after recovering from a calf injury, both came on after the hour but neither could inspire a winner.
Instead, it was Vazquez, and two youthful Brazilians that took centre stage. Vazquez scored but Vinicius Junior, the youngest Real Madrid player to feature in a Clasico this century, was his team’s greatest threat until the 18-year-old departed in the second half.
“I’m not surprised by how he plays because I’ve known him since he arrived,” said Solari. “But an 18-year-old boy playing and developing in this way, that is a surprise.”
Malcom was just as unpredictable and, in the end, it was the 21-year-old’s intervention that keeps Barca on level terms.
“The tie is in the balance,” coach Ernesto Valverde said. “A draw is a fair reflection,” said Sergio Busquets.
Barely 10 seconds had passed before Toni Kroos snapped into Ivan Rakitic, setting the tone for what was a dominant opening spell from Madrid.
Vinicius led the way. He was fearless, full of imperfections and erratic decisions but delivering moments of clarity too when Madrid were at their most threatening.