Real Madrid stunned Barcelona with an early goal in their Clasico cup semi-final first leg but Malcom popped up for his first Camp Nou goal to leave the tie finely balanced ahead of the second leg at the end of the month.
Barcelona will hope Lionel Messi is fully fit by then. He was rested for an hour here – the mere sight of him warming up seemed to inspire Barcelona’s second half revival.
Real Madrid were quicker to everything from the first kick. Vinicius led the charge and it was from his cross that Toni Kroos had Madrid’s first chance.
On six minutes Vinicius again crossed this time deeper to Benzema who got the better of Jordi Alba keeping the ball in play and screwing it back for Luca Vazquez who raced in ahead of Clement Lenglet to turn the ball past Marc Andre ter Stegen for 1-0.
Solari’s decision to leave Gareth Bale on the bench had been justified with Vinicius, Benzema and Lucas Vazquez linking for the goal. Every time Vinicius got the ball there was a hushed anxiety in the Camp Nou. His debut was driving Nelson Semedo to distraction.
Serigio Ramos was booked for non-existent foul on Malcom as the surprise inclusion in Barcelona’s staring line-up began to see more and more of the ball down the left flank policed inadequately by the hapless Marcelo.
Madrid might have made it 2-0 but when Vinicius won ball and raced clear he ignored Benzema to his right and Kroos to his left and failed to finish.
It did not deter him. His next raid down the left saw him release Benzema who pulled the ball back Kroos whose shot was saved.
When Barcelona finally got Jordi Alba racing down the left Lucas Vazquez tracked him all the way. With no joy down Alba’s wing it was left to Maclom on the right to try to get Barcelona back into the game.
Pique headed a Malcom corner wide and then Lenglet headed a Malcom free-kick on to the bar.
Suarez then had a shot saved by Keylor Navas from Malcom’s cross. Malcom was being given plenty of room by Marcelo but no making the most of it yet.
Vinicius ended the half being flattened by Nelson Semedo who was booked. The Real Madrid winger turned to furious Barcelona supporters and smiled. He had them and Semedo where he wanted them.
It was more of the same in the second period and it took Messi warming-up on the touchline to change the game. He appeared to have given the order to his manager when one of Ernesto Valverde’s assistants approached him in the technical area and whispered in his ear. Valverde turned and nodded in agreement that Messi – to huge applause – could now get to his feet to warm up.
He was still warming up when the suddenly noisy Camp Nou had a goal to celebrate. Suarez shot from the left and when the ball came back off the post it ran to Malcom who fired it into an empty net. Navas was still scrambling back having charged out to close down Alba before Suarez’ shot.
The Camp Nou now believed and Messi came on to replace the underwhelming Philippe Coutinho. Suddenly it was a different game with Madrid taking three steps back because of Messi.
He still robbed Casemiro and when he honed in on goal Lucas Vazque brought him down but the free-kick was charged down. Bale was not having the same effect and when Benzema broke with ten minutes left and played him in Bale he took one touch to try to take the ball around Nelson Semedo but then fell as his shot right-footed wide. Benzema held his head in his hands.
That was the chance and Messi almost squeezed the second in for Barcelona with their next attack. As it was the game was left hanging in the balance – it’s in Madrid’s favor that the second leg is at home but it will favor Barcelona that they have Ousmane Dembele and Messi both back fit.