All of the pre-game build up to El Clasico centred on whether Lionel Messi would play or not and, if so, just how long it would be for.
When the team news was released, Barca’s captain found himself on the bench with Malcom, perhaps surprisingly, taking his spot in the starting XI.
Any worries that cules had about the Brazilian’s inclusion were soon dispelled as Malcom dovetailed expertly with Nelson Semedo down the right side.
Santiago Solari’s equally surprising decision to play Marcelo rather than Sergio Reguilon clearly played right into Ernesto Valverde’s hands.
If ever a player needed a confidence boost and a decent amount of minutes on the pitch too, it was Malcom, and he promptly showed us all what he has in the locker when unleashed.
Malcom: most chances created for Barcelona (3)— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 6, 2019
Nélson Semedo: most tackles made for Barcelona (5)
They both completed a game-high five take-ons each, too. pic.twitter.com/m9Sw3rBSuG
Sure, he’s still a little rough around the edges, but he’s only 21 years of age, hasn’t been schooled at Barca and hasn’t really been allowed an extended tenure in the side in order to showcase his talent, all of which has to be taken into account when assessing his relative merits to the side.
Let’s not beat about the bush here. He was sensational against Los Blancos. With Luis Suarez having a quiet night by his standards and Jordi Alba unable to influence proceedings until Messi’s belated introduction, it was Malcom who was the main attacking outlet and threat.
The sharpness he displayed throughout was in stark contrast to that of Alba and Lenglet for Real’s opening goal.
His dead balls were on point too, Ivan Rakitic unlucky to see his header come back off the crossbar after Malcom’s laser-guided delivery.
Malcom vs Real Madrid— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) February 6, 2019
75% pass accuracy
3 key passes
5 dribbles won
10 duels won
This was the real Malcom that we all remember from Bordeaux. Fantastic performance. pic.twitter.com/TroiNX1yux
All that was missing from the Brazilian’s first half was a goal to underscore his brilliance, though admittedly he should’ve done far better when one-on-one with Keylor Navas after 19 minutes.
On that occasion he was wrongly flagged for offside and, had he slotted home, VAR would’ve overruled the assistant referee.
He could’ve crumbled under the huge weight of expectation, but Malcom continued to probe, proving to be a bit of a nuisance, with Semedo again providing superb assistance when required.
Valverde certainly deserves credit - though he’s unlikely to get it - for sticking with a player who is in great form, rather than playing Sergi Roberto.
People seem to forget that Malcom is only having his first season and he barely plays. What he did yesterday was exceptional. To be playing so little, to be lacking of confidence, and to miss a big chance in probably your last chance to prove yourself, and to respond perfectly. pic.twitter.com/tAEy6fEcPZ— ♯أحمَد (@ilshuwaib) February 7, 2019
As it was, the No.14 finally capped his night with a goal on 59 minutes, courtesy of a lucky break when Suarez hit the post on the opposite side to him.
Malcom still had work to do, but a sign of his maturity was clearly evident when, instead of rushing the chance, he gave himself a second or two before unleashing a drive into the net courtesy of a slight deflection from Dani Carvajal.
What a shame then that not long afterwards, the man of the match had to depart because of what appeared to be a thigh injury.
The ovation he received was well deserved, and at least he can be happy in the knowledge that his performance means he’s part of the conversation again and not just an afterthought.