Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Marcelo and Gareth Bale in the bad books plus other talking points

Andy West 21:43 26/02/2019
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Marcelo will be under pressure to deliver.

Real Madrid and Barcelona square off for the first of two Clasicos in the space of four days with the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg showdown at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night.

The tie is perfectly poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg, which saw Malcom cancel out an early opener from Lucas Vazquez.

An intriguing added element to this game is the fact that it comes just before the league Clasico and in the middle of the Champions League last sixteen first and second legs, meaning there will be plenty of temptation for respective managers Santiago Solari and Ernesto Valverde to shuffle their packs and give key players some rest.

And the involvement of one big name in particular in the first of our key talking points ahead of the action.

BALE IN SOLARI’S BAD BOOKS?

Gareth Bale has been the talk of the town in Madrid ever since Sunday’s narrow 2-1 victory at Levante, where the Welshman scored the winning goal from the penalty spot but then made plain his disgruntlement at starting the game on the bench by angrily refusing to celebrate.

Manager Solari has steadfastly refused to talk about Bale’s conduct on Sunday, which also included the winger ending his warm-up prematurely and grumpily returning to the bench when he saw that Fede Valverde was being introduced as the first substitute ahead of him.

The best way for Solari to show that he really has no problem with Bale, of course, would be to select him in the starting line-up. And the best way for Bale to stem the mounting criticism heading his way would be to deliver a tie-winning performance.

But neither of those things can be guaranteed, and it will be fascinating to see whether the coach opts for Bale in such a big game with a trophy at stake, or whether he prefers to stick with the combination of Vinicius Junior and Vazquez, which has been his first choice in recent weeks.

Bale has found the going tough under Solari.

Bale has found the going tough under Solari.

CAN MARCELO REVIVE HIS FORTUNES?

Another high-profile and long-serving Madrid star whose place in the team is far from secure is Marcelo. Along with Bale and Isco, the experienced Brazilian has been the biggest individual loser of Solari’s reign, falling behind youngster Sergio Reguilon to put his future at the club in jeopardy.

To his credit, 22 year-old Reguilon has handled his sudden elevation in status extremely well, and although he does not offer the same level of attacking threat as Marcelo he has helped provide a greater sense of balance and defensive security, so there’s certainly no clamour for Marcelo to be recalled.

Indeed, one of Marcelo’s few starts in recent weeks came in the first leg at the Camp Nou, where he earned plenty of criticism for a shaky performance which made his area of the pitch the team’s clear weak link.

It’s far too early to assert that Marcelo’s long and distinguished Madrid career is over, but if he receives another chance on Wednesday night he will be under heavy pressure to deliver.

The left-back has been off-colour for some time now.

The left-back has been off-colour for some time now.

MALCOM OUT IN THE COLD AGAIN?

The main beneficiary of Marcelo’s poor game in the first leg was Barca winger Malcom, who rounded off a very bright performance on the right flank by netting the second half equaliser.

Strangely, though, the Brazilian has not been seen since that night, with Valverde apparently not believing he did enough to earn more playing time. In all likelihood, Malcom will have to be content with a place on the bench – at best – for this second leg, but the ongoing struggles of Philippe Coutinho and the fact that Ousmane Dembele is still returning to full fitness after injury could give him a glimmer of hope.

Another player in the frame for selection is young midfielder Carles Alena, who caught the eye from the bench during Saturday’s comeback win at Sevilla and could be added into the midfield.

Malcom could be in the frame for selection.

Malcom could be in the frame for selection.

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