Malcom shows Philippe Coutinho how it's done for Barcelona in El Clasico

Andy West 7/02/2019
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The Copa Clasico is perfectly poised after an absorbing first leg at the Camp Nou, which saw Real Madrid strike after just five minutes through Lucas Vazquez, but Barcelona soon grew into the game and deservedly levelled in the second half with a powerful strike from Malcom.

There were many talking points around both sides before the game – and after a competitive and at times exciting 90 minutes, there are still plenty of discussion points. Here are three of the most gripping.

Malcom threatens, Coutinho frustrates

With Lionel Messi deemed too much of a risk to start, the big decision taken by Barca boss Ernesto Valverde was to select Malcom on the right flank rather than adding another body into the centre of the field through Carles Alena or Arturo Vidal.

Malcom made a poor start, looking hasty to impress and consequently giving away possession too cheaply and too often, drawing a couple of frustrated glances from Luis Suarez for failing to deliver the right pass at the right time.

But he rapidly settled into the action and, along with full-back Nelson Semedo, played a big role in changing the dynamic of the game midway through the first half. The Brazilian soon became the biggest attacking force on the field, making several incisive incursions into the penalty area and ultimately earning a deserved goal by latching onto the loose ball and firing home, then showing his emotions by racing away for a frenzied celebration.

On the other flank, meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho continued to flounder. He was almost anonymous in the first half and barely improved after the break, although he did manage to muster two long-range harmless shots before being replaced by Messi.

As such an expensive recruit, Coutinho will undoubtedly receive more opportunities to recover from his prolonged poor run of form. But with Malcom taking this chance to shine and Ousmane Dembele due back soon, the possibility of a summer departure is growing all the time.

Madrid’s wing quartet flatter to deceive

Madrid boss Santi Solari also made a big call in attack, partnering in-form Karim Benzema with youngster Vinicius Junior and workhorse Lucas Vazquez, leaving record signing Gareth Bale and highly-touted Marco Asensio on the bench.

After only five minutes his selection was at least partly justified, with all three playing an active role in the opening goal: Vinicius sent an accurate left-wing cross to the far post, where Benzema controlled to astutely find Vazquez who applied a composed finish.

However, that was more or less that. Vinicius showed some smart footwork and delivered some dangerous moments during the remainder of the first half, but he too often took the wrong passing option and tried to do too much with the ball. Vazquez, meanwhile, barely offered any attacking contribution after his opener, although he did – as always – work hard defensively.

ViniciusRealBarcaElClasico (1)

Both wingers were substituted in the second half, but neither new man shone: Bale made a minimal impact other than fluffing a decent chance after a wayward clearance from Marc-Andre ter Stegen was played into his path by Benzema, while Asensio was not really given sufficient time to impose himself. Ultimately, then, the question of who should be the first-choice starters in the wide positions was left open.

Blancos better – but still work in progress

The lack of clarity over the front three rather serves to sum up the general state of the Madrid team at the moment, and it’s probably fair to say that this game left more questions than answers.

Of course, it was a far better performance and outcome than the last Clasico trip to the Camp Nou, when October’s 5-1 thrashing resulted in the dismissal of Julen Lopetegui. So there is reason for new boss Solari to feel pleased with the progress made by his team, and there were some wonderfully fluent passages of play in the opening 20 minutes which suggested they are on the verge of becoming a major force once again.

But it was notable – and worrying – how quickly they faded from the game once Barca got a grip of their early uncertainties. As soon as the home team started to exert pressure, Los Blancos appeared to retreat into themselves, more concerned with attempting to avoid defeat rather than imposing themselves on the game and driving forward.

With the wingers lacking impact, Benzema was left isolated, while Luka Modric only sparkled in isolated moments and Toni Kroos sat too deep to influence the game as an attacking force. Even the normally very attack-minded full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal were circumspect, strengthening the overall impression of a team which is still tentatively finding its path rather than striding with genuine confidence towards titles. Of course, they might find that path – but on this evidence, they still have a fair distance to travel.

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Lionel Messi was decisive against Real Madrid, says Ernesto Valverde

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Lionel Messi was introduced to the last-four match only as a second-half substitute after Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde started him on the bench.

The Argentinian was nursing a minor leg injury sustained in the 2-2 La Liga draw against Valencia last weekend.

“Leo is fine,” Valverde is quoted as saying by Marca. “We prefer not to take risks at this time of the season.

“He had some discomfort and we decided it was for the best.”


Malcolm, who deputised for Messi, impressed for the home side, netting Barcelona’s equaliser after 57 minutes.








But Valverde’s side must now score at least one goal at the Bernabeu to reach the final.


“We have to score, so the tie is open,” he added.



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Keylor Navas calls on Real Madrid to make Copa del Rey advantage count

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Keylor Navas hopes Real Madrid can make their away goal count to finish off Barcelona at the Bernabeu and reach the Copa del Rey final.

Los Blancos hold a slender advantage after they secured a 1-1 draw in the opening leg of their semi-final clash at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.

Lucas Vazquez put Real in front after just six minutes before Malcolm rescued the hosts with his second-half equaliser.

Barcelona are bidding to win the competition for a fifth consecutive time, but goalkeeper Navas hopes Real can stop their run of domination when the two sides meet again on February 27.

“We knew we had to score and hopefully we can make the away goal count because we want to be in that final,” he told Real Madrid TV.

“Both sides created chances and we both enjoyed spells on top.”

Ahead of the return match, Navas added: “We expect a tough game. You can’t think it is going to be a walk in the park because both clubs want to be in that final.
“So, we have to try and do things better than they do to book our place there.”

Lionel Messi was introduced to the last-four match only as a second-half substitute after Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde started him on the bench.

The Argentinian was nursing a minor leg injury sustained in the 2-2 La Liga draw against Valencia last weekend.

“Leo is fine,” Valverde is quoted as saying by Marca. “We prefer not to take risks at this time of the season.

“He had some discomfort and we decided it was for the best.”

Malcolm, who deputised for Messi, impressed for the home side, netting Barcelona’s equaliser after 57 minutes.

But Valverde’s side must now score at least one goal at the Bernabeu to reach the final.

“We have to score, so the tie is open,” he added.

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