On came Messi, off went Vinicius, and everything changed
Let's be honest: there have been better Clásicos. But this one was not short on excitement and emotion, either; and that'll now stay with us as we prepare for the second leg on 27 February. Lionel Messi did not start for Barcelona, and, for a long while, it was a game defined by his absence. However, all it took was for him to begin lacing up his boots in the 53rd minute for the mood to shift on the pitch, in the stands, and in every living room, too, I imagine. Everything changed. Messi's influence on Barça is comparable only to the effect he has on his opponents. One look at him, and Real Madrid went back into their shell. Of course, Santiago Solari's decision to take off Vinicius for Gareth Bale also played its part, to be fair.
Once Vinicius was taken off, Madrid weren't much of a threat
In a not insignificant selection decision, Vinicius had started up front alongside Lucas Vázquez and Karim Benzema, and between them, the front three conjured up Los Blancos' goal, which is the chief positive Solari can take away from the Camp Nou. I really like Vinicius. He still needs to get his eye in in front of goal, but at just 18 he has time on his side. He's a winger blessed with real chutzpah, who runs at his man and destroys his confidence, because he beats him time and time again - and, in doing so, takes out one line of defence and causes disarray in the opposition backline. Players like him don't grow on trees. When he was withdrawn, Madrid really missed him. They weren't much of a threat afterwards.
Messi was clearly half fit; Coutinho flopped badly
Just as Solari deserves credit for starting Vinicius, he also blotted his copybook by substituting him, and by picking Marcelo, who continues to be guilty of lapses that leave you crying out for Sergio Reguilón. As for Barça, Messi was clearly half fit: shortly after he came on, he set off on three energetic dribbles, but thereafter played within himself. With Ousmane Dembélé also unable to make the XI, Barça were basically left with the firepower of Luis Suárez. Malcom managed to make the most of Marcelo's lax marking, but Philippe Coutinho flopped badly on a night when his side needed him more than ever. All in all, we didn't learn anything we didn't know already. Barcelona are a completely different proposition without Messi, and Real Madrid are better with Vinicius than with Bale.