In the first of three clasico matches to be played in as many weeks, Real Madrid held hosts Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semifinals for the Copa del Rey. At Real Betis, Sevilla pulled a come from behind draw to level their semifinals at 2-2.
Karim Benzema turned provider with a close-range assist for Lucas Vazquez to redirect from inside the goalkeeper’s box for the opening score at the sixth minute while Barca’s winger, Malcom, drew the hosts even a the 57th minute with a powerful shot at the end of a wild scramble of a scoring sequence.
Neither team seemed fully in rhythm though the visitors were the more dominant side. Lionel Messi came off the bench at the 63rd and did spark the Cules, but it was a case of too little too late. It was a noteworthy match in that for the first time in at least a decade, it seemed, Barca was penalized with four yellow cards to Madrid’s two and no Merengue had to go to the showers early. Internal link
The draw was fortunate for the hosts who did not play to their standards and the away goal will certainly help Madrid, but it will be a very different match come the second leg as both teams should be mostly at full strength and it will be do or die time.
The next two clasicos, the rubber match in La Liga and the second leg in the Copa, will both be played at the Santiago Bernabeu. With two wins, the Merengues would close to within five points in the domestic championship and would move on to the finals of the Copa del Rey. Two Barca wins would put La Liga out of reach for Real and eliminate the Madrid side from the Copa.
We are witnessing the changing of the guard at both clubs. With Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit forcing the issue at Madrid and Messi’s recent injury making the thinking heads at Barca begin to project a Catalan side without their diminutive Argentine talisman.
At Real Madrid, new coach Santiago Solari has begun to play stalwarts Toni Kroos, Marcelo, Asensio, Isco, and Kaylor Navas to increasingly lesser degrees, giving younger players chances to showcase their wares. He has also experimented with line ups that downplay the stellar roles of Casemiro, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, and Gareth Bale. With each of these stars still in their prime, and able to command pricey transfers, Real may be poised for a sea change at the Bernabeu.
At the Camp Nou, which has been much more active in the transfer market, there seem to be signs the post-Messi era is being prepped—“I know one day Lionel will say he is retiring, [so] we have to prepare the club for the future,” said club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Meanwhile we have another two years left on Messi’s Barca contract and a Copa America to be played in Brazil as a marker for the superstar to aim at this summer.