Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Malcom shines in Lionel Messi's absence as Philippe Coutinho struggles

Lucas Vazquez gave Real an early advantage but Malcom hit back for Barca in the second half

Lawrence Ostlere
Wednesday 06 February 2019 08:49
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Lionel Messi couldn't make the difference from the bench
Lionel Messi couldn't make the difference from the bench

Barcelona and Real Madrid drew 1-1 at the Nou Camp, meaning their Copa del Rey semi-final remains in the balance ahead of the second leg in the Spanish capital.

Lucas Vazquez gave Real an early advantage but Malcom hit back for Barca in the second half.

Here are five things we learned:

Coutinho continues to find his feet

There is a theory that says Philippe Coutinho would be considered among the best handful of players on the planet right now had he remained at Liverpool and made himself the star of Jurgen Klopp’s team. Instead he chose a different path and on this evidence he still needs time to find his feet in a Barcelona shirt.

There were fleeting glimpses of the sort of player who lit up Anfield so regularly, but in truth Coutinho was rarely able to impart his own style on the game, lacking the kind of cunjured assist or sweeping long-range finish that made him such a popular figure on the Kop. He has plenty of time to settle, of course, and he is still likely to finish the season as a La Liga winner, but he remains searching for the sort of form that made Barcelona indulge in such an exorbitant fee.

A Clasico lacking star power or cutting edge

Perhaps the absense of Clasico classics like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo was best exposed in a flurry of action just after the half-hour mark. First Nelson Semedo failed to find a team-mate with a pull-back from the byline, then Ivan Rakitic slammed the crossbar with a close-range header, before a few seconds later Vinicius Junior raced away down the other end and flashed a simple cross beyond Vazquez in the middle.

They were not clear chances but then the history of this famous fixture is not written by tap-ins. It is these type of opportunities which decide these great showdowns one way or the other, and what became more and more obvious as the first half wore on was just how little star power there is in each final third compared to the peak years of the Ronaldo-Messi dynasty.

Gerard Pique owns one half of Nou Camp

This is rarely a fixture to stop and admire the defensive work on either side, yet the lack of sparkle in attack was partly compensated by the elegant composure of Barca’s tower at the back, Gerard Pique.

The Spanish defender was constantly in control, twisting and turning out of the tightest spaces in areas where the consequences of losing the ball were to feel the brunt of 100,000 baying Catalonians. But his calm never wavered, receiving the ball from Ter Stegen with his back to the world, chipping passes across his own box, and guiding Real Madrid counter-attacks into safe spaces away from goal. Vazquez’s goal was the only blot on an impressive copybook from the Barcelona centre-back, who continues to set the highest standards.

Messi failed to make the difference

Malcom bristles with potential

The Brazilian winger was the outstanding player for much of the match, a livewire who provided a constant threat cutting in from the right on to his left foot, not unlike a certain No10 who began the game on the bench.

The question remains as to whether Malcom can add prolific goalscoring to his arsenal of skill and balance with the ball. He scored 12 goals last season for Bordeaux, and 7 the previous season – respectable numbers if not sensational. His equalising strike here against Real Madrid was only the third of his Barcelona career, but the composed finish while defenders wearing white rushed towards him was that of a player worthy of gracing the Nou Camp’s grand stage for many years to come.

This tie is wide open

When Lionel Messi came on Barca fans seemed to sense their team was about to take the match away from Real. That never materialised, however, and now Barcelona travel to the Bernabeu for the second leg with the tie very much in the balance.

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