Malcom may have saved his Barcelona career with his equaliser in Wednesday’s Copa clash at Camp Nou but the visitors’ resurgence is the real story
Clasicos are rarely wholesome experiences. They tend to be games beset by nerves, tension, arguments and spats.
We had all of that at Camp Nou on Wednesday, as Barcelona drew 1-1 with Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg. But we also had growth.
It is just half-time in the clash between football’s biggest rivals, but both sides will leave pleased with their evening’s work.
Certainly, Real Madrid showed just how far they have come under Santiago Solari.
In October, they came to this stadium and were given a savage beating by Barcelona, with the Catalans romping to a 5-1 victory which resulted in Julen Lopetegui being sacked as Blancos boss.
Since then, Madrid have made slow but steady progress and, remarkably, they now seem in a state of calm. For a club which usually is a box of fireworks, that is no mean feat.
Zinedine Zidane’s greatest achievement as Real Madrid coach, on the way to three consecutive European cups, was steadying the ship, and it seems Solari is now doing likewise.
The coach is achieving it in a different way, though. Solari isn’t afraid to make decisions that other coaches would shy away from.
The Argentine has brought in Vincius Junior, a player Lopetegui overlooked, and the Brazilian’s explosive impact on the left flank has helped reignite Madrid’s season.
In the Clasico, the teenager was erratic but still made an important impact. It was his cross to Karim Benzema that led to the opening goal, with the Frenchman squaring for Lucas Vazquez to finish in the sixth minute.
Gareth Bale saw the goal from the bench and it looks like the Welshman will remain one of the high-profile victims of Real’s resurgence, alongside Isco.
Solari’s attacking trio of Vazquez-Benzema-Vinicius is balanced. Bale no longer seems to fit up front.
After coming on in the second half, the forward performed poorly, failing to link up with his team-mates and eventually wasting a good chance to put Madrid back in front.
Barcelona had levelled in the 58th minute through a player enjoying growth of his own.
Malcom may well have saved his Barcelona career on a night which started badly for him but ended brilliantly.
After missing an early chance when Luis Suarez played him in, the winger refused to wallow in self-pity and sparked Barcelona’s recovery.
Lionel Messi’s thigh problem sustained against Valencia kept him out of the starting line-up and Malcom grasped the chance to replace the Argentine with both hands.
Eventually, he put Barcelona level on the night, showing the confidence to curl home from a tricky angle even with team-mates screaming for the ball.
However, this Clasico was just the prelude to two more coming up in under a month, with the second leg on February 27, before a vital clash in La Liga on March 2.
Both Madrid and Barca have tough schedules in the next four weeks which could end up defining their season.
The Champions League kicks back into action with Barca facing Lyon and Madrid clashing with Ajax.
Barcelona must travel to Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla in La Liga, while Real Madrid face bitter city rivals Atletico this weekend.
In the space of just a month, everything could be turned on its head.
A disastrous season for Madrid could become a sensational one if they manage to knock Barcelona out of the cup and score a league victory which would bring them back into the thick of the title race.
Or if the Catalans, with Messi back, can win at the Bernabeu twice in four days, then they would be well positioned for a shot at another treble, after their successes in 2009 and 2015.
Only after the dust settles on the third occasion these teams meet in the space of a month will we understand the true lie of the land.
For now, enjoy a rare, wholesome Clasico. The fire and fury won’t take long to arrive.goal