By Frank Smith, Football Whispers
The scoreline may not suggest it but Barcelona and Real Madrid battled out an enthralling encounter in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday night, as the long-time rivals had to settle for a 1-1 draw in Santiago Solari’s first El Clásico game in charge of Los Blancos.
Brazil and Real’s rising star Vinícius Júnior was at the heart of everything in the first half - good and bad - and the 18-year-old helped set up Lucas Vázquez to score after just six minutes at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
The visitors dominated much of the highly-entertaining first half but somehow there was just a solitary goal despite great chances for both teams.
The momentum shifted in the second half though as Barcelona took control and drew level just before the hour mark through their most dangerous player Malcom.
Lionel Messi was introduced from the bench inside the final half an hour but despite noticeably lifting his team-mates and the crowd, there were to be no further goals and the semi-final is finely poised heading into the second leg at the Bernabéu on Wednesday, February 27.
The biggest talking point before kick-off was whether Messi would be in the XI and the answer was to be no, as summer signing Malcom was handed a rare start for a Barcelona side who also welcomed back Sergio Busquets.
For Real it was Vazquez who was favored over Gareth Bale and Marcos Llorente replaced Casemiro at the base of the midfield, with Keylor Navas in-between the sticks.
0-1 (6 mins) - Vinícius Jr.’s cross to the far post was impressively brought under control by Karim Benzema and his pull-back was converted superbly by Lucas, with a low finish from five-yards out.
1-1 (57 mins) - After Navas had rushed out to get to a through-ball before Jordi Alba, Luis Suárez struck a shot from a tight angle which rebounded off the post into the path of Malcom. The Brazilian then shot past the covering defenders on the line to make it 1-1 but there was a spell of confusion temporarily as it appeared the referee had ruled the goal out.
Bale had to settle for a place on the bench as he continues to return to full fitness but he was given a golden opportunity to make it 2-1 inside the final ten minutes after coming on as a substitute. When Marc-André ter Stegen rushed way out of his goal only to give the ball to Karim Benzema, he passed to Bale on the edge of the penalty area, leaving the Welsh Wizard with only two covering defenders to beat. But instead of shooting early, the forward cut back on to his right foot and gave Barcelona enough time to recover and get the block in.
It wasn’t as simple as to say this contest was a game of two halves but the momentum certainly did shift after the break and it was a similar story when it came to who was the game’s key man. In the first half Real’s rising star Vinícius Jr. was electric at times and created several openings, even if the teenager did waste a host of glorious openings as well.
And in the second half it was Barcelona’s own Brazilian Malcom who proved to be decisive. The forward has struggled for game time since his switch in the summer but he was Barça’s most dangerous player during his hour on the pitch and it was he who grabbed the equaliser.
What it means
The 1-1 means it is all to play for in the second leg and after a game full of drama on Wednesday, fans are sure to be in for another fiercely contested battle on February 27.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Rakitić (Vidal 63), Busquets, Arthur; Malcom (Aleñá 76), Suárez, Coutinho (Messi 63).
Substitutes not used: Iñaki Peña, Murillo, Boateng, Sergi Roberto.
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modrić, Llorente (Casemiro 63), Kroos; Vázquez (Asensio 84), Benzema, Vinícius Jr (Bale 64).
Substitutes not used: Courtois, Nacho, Isco, Ceballos.
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