Barcelona extended their “tradition” of not winning the 1st leg of a Copa del Rey tie – their only win in the first leg coming in the Round of 32. The first non-league El Clasico in seemingly ages brought plenty of midfield battles and an early lead for the visitors through Lucas Vazquez, but Barcelona were able to secure the one-all draw in the second half with Malcom scoring his first Clasico goal.
With the El Clasico on the line, Ernesto Valverde wasn’t willing to risk much, opting to field a strong lineup, though Lionel Messi’s knock forced him to start on the bench. Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a rare start in the Spanish Cup, due to Jasper Cillessen’s injury, while Nelson Semedo slotted at right-back. In attack, Malcom joined Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez.
The visitors started strong and quickly created the first chance of the match, with Toni Kroos firing from range, but ter Stegen made the save. The German in Barcelona’s goal had no such success in the 6th minute when Jordi Alba reacted poorly to a cross and allowed Karim Benzema to control the ball. The Frenchman was able to send a dangerous ball in front of goal where Vazquez escaped Clement Lenget to tap the ball in for the all-important away goal.
Barcelona started to show more life after conceding, but finding a way through to Keylor Navas proved difficult. Real Madrid were also always on the prowl for a chance on the counter attack – and they had a three-on-two in the 13th minute, but Vinícius Júnior’s shot was blocked by Gerard Pique. Barcelona were often wasteful in possession, losing many balls in transition which allowed Real on numerous occasions to attack on the rush, though their attacking play left much to be desired.
In the 20th minute Barcelona finally created their first noteworthy chance and it was a beauty. Suarez excellently played Malcom through on goal, but one-on-one with Navas the Brazilian saw his shot saved. After the save the whistle for offside blew, but had Malcom scored the goal probably would’ve stood as Marcelo appeared deeper than Malcom.
Without Messi on the pitch Barcelona were left lacking in numerous facets of the game. The Catalans clearly had strong intentions going into the game, but the lack of Messi’s genius was painfully evident. Still, in the 27th minute Malcom sent a very useful cross from a free kick into the area that Pique appeared destined to power into the beck of the net, but the ball was redirected just over the bar. At the half hour mark Malcom was once again involved, this time finding Semedo on the overlap, but the right-back couldn’t find a teammate with his back-pass.
Barcelona’s play was improving and in the 32nd minute the Catalans had their best look on goal. Malcom was once again tasked with sending a dangerous free kick into the danger area. There Ivan Rakitić rose the highest and powered a header on goal - only to be denied by the crossbar. Three minutes later Malcom created another chance with a lovely dribble from the right wing, this time finding Suarez in the danger area, but the Uruguayan’s shot was excellently saved by Navas.
Most of Barcelona’s attacks came down the right wing where Malcom and Semedo combined very well, while the left wing with Alba and Coutinho left much to be desired. The effort was there for Barcelona, but the end product was lacking. And even though the Catalans showed plenty through possession play, Real Madrid went into the break up by a goal – and their lead could’ve been bigger for some better decisions in the attacking third.
The second half started with neither manager making any substitutions and with Barcelona quickly returning to the offensive. Barcelona were passing their way around the Real Madrid penalty area, but the visitors’ defense allowed very little. The Catalans didn’t take their first shot until the 54th minute, but Coutinho’s effort whistled high and wide. Barcelona were rewarded for their efforts in the 57th minute. Alba was played through on goal, but Navas was able to clear before Alba could take the shot. The clearance found Suarez deep on the left wing from where the Uruguayan struck the post with a brilliant shot. The ensuing rebound found Malcom on the far post and the Brazilian, with the smallest of redirections off Dani Carvajal, found the back of the net to tie the game at one.
A couple minutes later Barcelona were back on the attack, but Coutinho’s long range try was saved. Valverde looked to his bench in the 62nd minute as Arturo Vidal replaced Rakitić. Messi was also brought on in place of the largely invisible Coutinho. As a result of the second substitution Malcom swapped sides and moved to the left wing.
As both managers made their substitutions the match was given new life. As expected, the addition of Messi added new dimensions to Barcelona’s play and in the 70th minute the Argentine won a free kick in a dangerous spot after a lovely steal and run. However, his shot was stopped by the wall. Carles Alena was the last player to join play from the bench for Barcelona and he – surprisingly – replaced Malcom, taking his place on the left wing.
Both teams were anxious to create something in the final fifteen minutes of play, but both defenses held their ground. Barcelona were spending more time in the attacking third compared to Real at first but in the 81st minute Real had a glorious chance to retake the lead after a poorly executed run off the line from ter Stegen and only a perfectly timed block from Semedo prevented a goal. Three minutes later Raphael Varane would win an aerial duel inside the Barcelona box, but his try went wide.
The visitors would enjoy plenty of time in the final minutes of the match deep in Barcelona territory as the Blaugrana struggled to retain possession. With the additions of Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio Real were buzzing around the area and the Barcelona defense found it difficult to clear. Three minutes were added on as Barcelona finally took the ball in their possession in search for a late winner, but the El Clasico 1st Leg would end without a winner, though Real Madrid would secure the advantage with the away goal. The return leg won’t come for another three weeks and between then plenty of football will be played, both in the La Liga and in the Champions League.