Despite having 65% possession and 13 shots compared to four, Real Madrid weren’t able to make their dominance count where it matters most, on the scoreboard. They lost this Copa Clásico first leg 1-0 to an Éder Militão own goal and now need to mount another comeback, but this time on the road. On this disappointing night for Madridistas, there are several pre-match questions that we can answer, and a few new ones to discuss.
1. Could Real Madrid punish Barcelona’s poor form and absences?
It was quite amazing just how positive the mood was around Real Madrid coming into this Clásico. Because Barcelona had lost two in a row and because they had significant absences in the form of Christensen, Pedri, Dembélé and Lewandowski, both Real Madrid and Barcelona pundits alike agreed that Los Blancos should win this game and win it comfortably. There was a sense that Real Madrid had to make the most of this opportunity and earn a multiple-goal advantage to take to the Camp Nou for the second leg. Could they do that? Nope. Although Real Madrid dominated the game, posting the kind of 65% possession stat that we’re used to seeing from Barcelona in Clásicos, they lacked so much in the final third. Amazingly, their best chance turned out to be the glorious first-minute one-on-one that Luka Modrić couldn’t capitalise on. A Karim Benzema goal shortly afterwards was then ruled out for offside and, suddenly, one lapse in concentration saw Real Madrid concede an own goal. Despite pushing, they had no answer and will remarkably travel to Catalonia with a deficit, having completely wasted this opportunity.
2. How would this edition of Araújo vs Vinícius go?
Recent Clásicos have seen Barcelona put Ronald Araújo at right-back and on top of Vinícius and it was always going to be the same here. The Uruguayan has shut Vinícius down in the other two Clásicos were he played right-back, the 4-0 at the Bernabéu and the 3-1 Super Cup final. Here, they battled hard once again and Araújo was the winner more times than not. Vini tried to play more centrally and escape the Barça defender, while Nacho tried his best too to occupy Araújo, but the two youngsters kept coming back to each other throughout the 90 minutes, like magnets. It should be pointed out that this was a respectful duel. Even if there were some tough challenges either way, as is normal in such a high stakes contest, they kept sharing low-fives after certain plays, with each South American clearly understanding of just how talented the other is. With Vini just 22 and Araújo 23, this is a duel we could be seeing for many years and many Clásicos to come.
3. Would this be a low-scoring first leg?
Two-legged Clásicos are weird. Really weird. The norm in a Clásico is for each side to go all out in search of victory no matter what, but the prospect of a second leg changes this slightly. Before tonight, there had been five two-legged Copa del Rey or Champions League ties between Real Madrid and Barcelona this century and the first legs were all quite low-scoring, with two 1-1 draws in addition to a 2-1 Barcelona win, a 2-0 Barcelona win and a 2-0 Real Madrid win. That’s an average of just 2.2 goals per game, whereas the second legs of these ties have produced more goals, with an average of 3.0 goals per game. So, would this be another low-scoring first leg? Well, obviously it was. Because of the unique dynamic of the two-legged tie, Xavi’s side came to the Bernabéu to defend and just to keep the tie alive. They certainly got much more than that, while Real Madrid also didn’t go into complete comeback-mode, as you never know how the second leg might go and a 1-0 loss is better than a 2-0 loss. I’ll repeat it, two-legged Clásicos are weird.
1. Nacho was the only personnel change from the Super Cup, so what else changed?
Obviously the scoreline wasn’t what Real Madrid wanted, but the performance was a million times better than the one from the Spanish Super Cup final. However, the only difference in tonight’s starting line-up compared to the one on January 15th was Nacho at left-back instead of Ferland Mendy. Otherwise it was exactly the same, so the improvement for this Clásico change can’t be explained by that alone, even if Nacho was very good at containing Raphinha. So, what else was it? Was it just the Barcelona absences? Or was it something that Real Madrid did differently?
2. Is Tchouaméni not starting because of fitness or because of Camavinga?
We didn’t see Aurélien Tchouaméni until the 74th minute and that’s becoming a theme. While the Frenchman had become an undisputed starter before the World Cup break, he is now only infrequently involved. This has partly been down to injuries ruling him out and you do have to wonder if he’s not 100 percent fit yet. Or, is he simply not starting because Camavinga has been doing so well that he has earned the right to start in the No.6 spot? While I don’t think Camavinga deserves to be dropped, I do think that there must be something not quite right with Tchouaméni. I think that when he’s 100 percent right again, it’s the summer signing’s job to lose.
3. Will Ansu Fati’s block prove to be another “¡¡¡Tocó en Hugo Duro!!!” moment?
This actually could have been worse for Real Madrid. Even if it was something of a smash-and-grab from Barça, it could have been a 2-0 away win had Ansu Fati not blocked the Franck Kessié shot that was on its way in deep into the second half. To give Madridistas some hope, we have seen a very similar situation before in the Copa del Rey, when Getafe’s Hugo Duro inadvertently blocked a shot to save Valencia in the 2018/19 Copa del Rey, leading to the famous “¡¡¡Tocó en Hugo Duro!!! (It hit Hugo Duro)” commentary, before Los Che went on to win that tie and ultimately the whole thing. Maybe that Ansu Fati block will turn out to have been decisive in this tie…