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Immediate Reaction: Barcelona 1 - 1 Real Madrid

A fun game at the Camp Nou sees Real Madrid take a slight advantage into the second leg.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid - Copa del Rey Semi Final Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Barcelona draw Real Madrid 1 - 1 (Malcom; Lucas Vazquez) at the Camp Nou in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: player ratings, post-game podcast(s), and tactical review.

Real Madrid started off this game on the front foot, gained control, were the better side for the majority of first half, and slowly let their momentum and stranglehold on the match slip as Barca grew into the match. Then Real Madrid regained control. It was a rollercoaster.

There were a lot of impressive things happening from Solari’s men in the first half; mainly, their press. Within the first 60 seconds, you could see the intentions of the team when Toni Kroos won the ball twice. That set the tone. Real Madrid were pressing high on goal-kicks, and any time Barcelona had the ball deep in their own end. They forced Barcelona into plenty of giveaways in dangerous positions, and that conjured a lot of space and attacking opportunities for the front three.

And plenty of opportunities for Vinicius Jr.

Vinicius received a lot of criticism at half-time from fans on Twitter (and on my live half-time video), but it was harsh. He made mistakes in transition (bad passes and decisions on counter-attacks, specifically), but improved as the night went on, didn’t lack effort, was dangerous the entire first half even when not at his sharpest, and set up the hockey assist for Real Madrid’s opening goal of the game, where Karim Benzema controlled a cross-field switch from the Brazilian and Lucas Vazquez beat Clement Lenglet to the ball:

A bigger problem for Real Madrid (Vinicius was far, far, far from the team’s problem), was that Barcelona were gaining momentum as Solari’s pressed started to wane, and Malcom, who looked a bit shy and ineffective early in this game, started to grow in confidence and influence. Marcelo, on the left, was a mess defensively. While Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane were tremendous with their interventions and interceptions throughout, Marcelo continued to make defensive gambles. The issue with Real Madrid’s Brazilian left-back is not just that he struggles defending individually, it’s that his positioning leaves the team treading water.

Regardless of who was behind him, Marcelo would continually hedge and collapse on the ball-carrier, which set off a ton of dominoes defensively on Barca’s attacks. This is nothing new. This has been a wrinkle in his game for years.

Even despite Barcelona growing into the game, Real had their counter-attacking opportunities, and had chances to build on their lead. They got to half-time without conceding a goal (we need to tip our hats to Keylor Navas, who made some great saves).

In the second half, the regroup didn’t seem to help much. Barcelona kept attacking and Real Madrid’s influence with the ball, and their ability to pass it out of the back, started to diminish dramatically.

On a scramble, Malcom equalized:

That was a moment where Real Madrid truly had their backs to the wall, and around the same time where Lionel Messi came in off the bench.

Maybe in a twist (and just in time for my immediate reaction), Real Madrid rose again and responded really well to Barca’s equalizer. They didn’t end up scoring, but their press became efficient again (even forced Ter Stegen to come out of his net, while Gareth Bale — who came in for Vinicius in the second half — squandered an opportunity to score as he was closed down by Semedo). The passing was crisper too, and Real Madrid even found themselves getting in good positions with slower build-up play with Barcelona defending deep.

A draw was a fair result, overall. This was a dramatically improved collective performance from the disaster Clasico earlier this season.

We’ll break this down further in the coming hours.

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