Another El Clásico is in the books.
The final result? Simply a 1-1 draw. But don’t be misconstrued by the scoreline, the game was everything this gigantic derby should be.
Whistles from the crowd filled the Nou Camp, multiple yellow cards were given, scrums erupted between players and of course, goals were scored by either side.
Since Madrid’s last match against Barcelona (which ended in a 5-1 loss and preluded the sacking of Julen Lopetegui), a lot has changed within the team.
Last night, Santiago Solari’s Real Madrid squad certainly had one of their better performances this season and made up for the earlier performance against their bitter rivals.
While the match itself is a challenge, the first obstacle for Solari was to select a starting XI suitable to play in the first leg.
Only a few weeks back, Madrid had various players out due to injuries and as a result, called up Javi Sanchez, Federico Valverde and Cristo Gonzalez.
With Alvaro Odriozola, Sergio Reguilon, and Vinicius Junior already gaining minutes with the senior squad, the team was looking more like their Castilla team and the results were not the best.
However, the injury curse was lifted off Solari and co. just in time for the Barcelona matchup and most of the team was back to full fitness except for Jesus Vallejo.
On one hand, this was a very good thing prior to one of the biggest games of the season for the team but that also meant that Solari had many players to chose from when constructing a strong starting XI.
Unsurprisingly, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane all started the match.
Others including Vinicius Junior, Lucas Vazquez, Marcos Llorente, Marcelo and Dani Carvajal were also given the thumbs up from the Argentine coach. But the most surprising choice was between the sticks.
Instead of Thibaut Courtois, Keylor Navas was given the responsibility of defending the Madrid goal and the Costa Rican’s presence helped solidify the defensive line.
Right from the beginning, the back four was putting on an impressive performance with Navas himself adding even more assistance.
The four defenders moved as a unit throughout the game, easily shifting the play of the game to either side. This helped block any attacking threats from their opponents.
Ramos did very well covering Luis Suarez, who at times was the central focus for Barcelona alongside Malcolm and whenever he was out of position, Varane was able to cover.
The Frenchman also had the teams most successful aerial duels completed.
Even with the two central defenders doing some of their best work, Navas was certainly kept on his toes.
He saved shots from both Philippe Coutinho and Malcolm throughout the game and regularly took it upon himself to come out of his goal and do some work with his feet.
His quick decisions to go 1 v. 1 with many Barcelona players, alongside his two saves, helped keep a low score line.
Alongside the work in the back, the team was continually pushing forward (especially after Vazquez scored the opening goal only six minutes in).
Benzema lead the team up front and despite having a personally quiet night, he was able to assist the team’s only goal and was fluidly changing positions within the Barcelona defence.
Vinicius Junior lead the team shooting average with four shots and Kroos followed up with three along with four other players have one each.
Throughout the midifeld, Modric and Llorente offered support in behind the front three, pressing and maintaining ball possession when necessary but also dropping back to fill gaps when Malcolm or Suarez tried to break.
Now, of course, every Clásico is it’s own special match but a lot is on the line for the next one.
Solari has a tough few weeks ahead of him as the team prepares to play against Atletico Madrid and Girona in the league and then Ajax in the Champions League before revisiting the tie.
If Madrid can again avoid the injury curse, play with a solid back line and stay on their toes in attack, they have a good chance of making it through to the final of the Copa del Rey.
But for now, the football world will have to wait another three weeks to enjoy one of the greatest rivalries on the planet.
The second leg will take place at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 27, at 9:00 p.m. CET.