El Clásico – undoubtedly the greatest derby there ever is. All the political implications, nationalism and glory mashed up together in a soccer game. The game on Wednesday kicked off what would be a three-game series between the Spanish juggernauts within the span of a month, and believe me, they never disappoint.
This first leg of Copa Del Rey ended in a 1-1 tie and it is a rather fair result. Lucas Vasquez opened the score for the away team in five minutes and Barcelona equalized with a clinical Malcom finish in a frenetic sequence around the Madrid box.
Both teams were clinical on the counter and did not lack the chances to pile on the goals, but what would be a bit of inexperience here and there did not help the cause. Vinicius had a few chances and so did Malcom. Among all the chaos, though, a player in-form that continued to stand out would be Karim Benzema. He has been having a revival for the past month and he was an effective piece in the Madrid setup with his industrious qualities helping out on pressing and also his preferred role of a false-nine linking up with the more traditional wingers featured in this squad. This meant that Isco and Asensio needed to be sacrificed but they are capable of flourishing in other parts of the field if Real is not playing conservative with its midfield three.
A contrast to Benzema would definitely be Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan has led the front line for Barça ever since his highly-coveted arrival from Liverpool, but he looked abysmal in this game. Without Messi early on, he had to shoulder some responsibilities in facilitating the offense. It is something he is capable of: as much as a prolific goal scorer he could be, he can run with Messi and Neymar in the frightening MSN days and create for the other two. He just looked out of touch this game with his reading of the situation, touches and also passes and he himself stagnated a number of counter attacking opportunities for his own team.
Another part of the narrative of the match was on Real’s backline. Carvajal and Marcelo have had on-and-off injuries at times, but they are the go-to players to rely on when it comes to big games still with their experiences. Odriozola and Reguilón have proved themselves in a less shiny version of the Galácticos, but you simply can’t replace experience and what better than having two players who had four Champions League titles in their resume?
The final narrative has to be Keylor Navas. Quality, quality goalkeeper and instrumental to the success of their dream run of four CL titles. He is being mistreated by the club and yet he decided to stay and prove his place in a club where sentimental value doesn’t exist with Florentino Perez in charge (see Raúl and Iker Casillas). He has yet again shone in this match with his unique style and a stellar performance, despite conceding that goal with him being out of position. He should be starting over Thibaut Courtois or he should really depart for a team that will cherish his talents.