AFPBARCELONA (AFP-Jiji) — Real Madrid gained a measure of redemption at the Camp Nou by holding Barcelona to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday and taking the upper hand in the semifinal of the Spanish King’s Cup.
Neither Lionel Messi nor Gareth Bale were named in the starting lineups for this first leg, but their replacements filled the void as Malcom’s curling shot cancelled out an early opener from Lucas Vazquez.
After an impressive opening 20 minutes, Madrid was largely second best in a compelling, if unspectacular, Clasico but the result leaves it well-placed heading into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Feb. 27.
For Santiago Solari’s side, a resilient, gutsy display will also help erase the memory of its humiliation here in October, when it was thrashed 5-1, a result that caused Julen Lopetegui to be sacked the following day.
“Comparisons are unhelpful,” said Solari. “But this result shows how hard the team is working.”
Messi, who had been struggling with a thigh problem, and Bale, who faces a fight for place after recovering from a calf injury, both came on after the hour, but neither could inspire a winner.
Instead, it was Vazquez and two youthful Brazilians who took center stage. Vazquez scored but Vinicius Junior, the youngest Real Madrid player to feature in a Clasico this century, was his team’s greatest threat until the 18-year-old departed in the second half.
“I’m not surprised by how he plays because I’ve known him since he arrived,” Solari said. “But an 18-year-old boy playing and developing in this way, that is a surprise.”
Malcom was just as unpredictable, and in the end, it was the 21-year-old’s intervention that kept Barca on level terms.
“The tie is in the balance,” coach Ernesto Valverde said. “A draw is a fair reflection,” Sergio Busquets said.
Barely 10 seconds had passed before Toni Kroos snapped into Ivan Rakitic, setting the tone for what was a dominant opening spell from Madrid.
Vinicius led the way. He was fearless, full of imperfections and erratic decisions but delivering moments of clarity too when Madrid was at its most threatening. He jinked inside Nelson Semedo and teed up Kroos before producing the cross that created the goal, an arching ball over the head of Jordi Alba that Karim Benzema tucked back for Vazquez to poke in.