Just over three months ago at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid were thumped 5-1 by Barcelona.

The Catalans were so good on the day that the score could’ve been seven or eight and no one would’ve batted an eyelid.

Julen Lopetegui could never recover from such a hammering and was swiftly sent packing to be replaced as coach by Real Madrid Castilla’s Santiago Solari.

Defeats at Eibar and against CSKA Moscow are a particularly painful memory, but suggestions that Florentino Perez got the appointment wrong are wildly inaccurate.

Solari only has two more losses to his record, against Real Sociedad and Leganes, with the latter coming in a Copa del Rey tie that had been won in the first leg.

Indeed, aside from those results and a draw at Villarreal, heading into the Barcelona game on Wednesday Solari had won 18 of his 23 games in charge. That’s hardly sackable form!

Perhaps the absurd belief that the Argentinian was somehow out of his depth perpetuated the notion that Los Blancos were heading for another hiding in Catalonia, but that was never going to happen.

Real are playing their best football of the season, and that’s largely due to the bravery of their coach, and in stark contrast to some of the decisions his predecessor made. Or didn’t make more to the point.

Though leaving Isco out consistently is a little baffling, putting Vinicius Junior and Marcos Llorente into the mix deserves the plaudits. Both have responded wonderfully well to their coach’s faith and neither looked out of place against Barcelona.

In fact, the Brazilian was Real’s chief threat for long periods, and only his decision making at crucial points of the match let him down. Let’s not forget of course that he’s only 18 and showed no fear on his first Clásico appearance.

When Llorente was forced off with Casemiro replacing him, Barca were handed the advantage. The security that the youngster had afforded his team to that point had disappeared.

Leaving out Marcelo wasn’t an option on this occasion, but Solari has preferred Sergio Reguilon to the vice-captain over recent matches.

It takes guts to go with your instincts, especially when senior players are involved and particularly at a big club that’s so riddled with internal politics.

A coach will live or die by those decisions and, as we saw with Lopetegui, some won’t make them at all.

Solari’s courage of his convictions not only saw his team dominate Barcelona for long periods but has put Los Blancos in the box seat ahead of the second leg.

The last team to knock the Blaugrana out of the Copa del Rey (way back in 2014) was… you’ve guessed it, Real Madrid, and the incentive to stop them becoming the first team in history to win the title five years in a row will be all the motivation that Solari needs to fire his players up for the return.

A second title under him could finally be the turning point he needs to convince any lingering doubters as to his suitability for the position.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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