Barcelona survived Real Madrid’s attempt to end the Catalans’ unbeaten season, leading twice, but both times allowing the visitors to tie the game up. While on paper Barcelona would want to win the El Clasico, the Catalans will be mightily happy with the result as they were forced to play the entire second half without Sergi Roberto who was sent off late in the first.
The first highly-anticipated moment of the El Clasico came even before the opening whistle. It was whether Real Madrid would honor the lovely tradition of the pasillo, which has been alive and well for 89 years, but despite pressure from their own legends, Zinedine Zidane’s words held true and the visitors did break the tradition of honoring the newly crowned champions.
With both teams sending out their best available lineups and nothing to play for, though Barcelona were still looking to become the first unbeaten team in La Liga, a highly entertaining match was expected. The lively Camp Nou didn’t have to wait long for the first excitement. Quickly after the 3rd minute mark, Lionel Messi spotted Suarez making a run into the area. Messi’s pass found the Uruguayan, but Suarez couldn’t get his shot past Raphael Varane.
Barcelona were looking good, while Real also looked to threaten on every available opportunity. It would be the Catalans though who would draw first blood. Barcelona launched a lovely counter attack after winning the ball back inside their own half. A few quick passes later, Sergi Roberto was sending a perfect cross in from the right wing right onto the leg of Suarez who slotted the ball into the back of the net for the lead.
Five minutes later, though, the visitors would tie the game. On a counter attack of their own, started by Toni Kroos who skipped Sergio Busquets to win acres of space, Real outplayed Barcelona on a three-on-three. Kroos later on found Karim Benzema on the far post for the shot. The Frenchman’s shot found Ronaldo in the middle who tapped the ball in for the equalizer. Moments before the tying goal, Barcelona had penalty claim turned away, but replays of the incident were surprisingly absent.
Slowly but surely, Real was becoming the more dangerous side on the pitch, mostly due to some ill-advised plays from the Barcelona defense. As a result, Real – mostly Ronaldo - all too often found it too easy to find space for shots. The Portuguese forward had two excellent chances to put his team in front in the 27th minute. First, he was played through the Barcelona backline to go one-on-one with Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the German emerged victorious. Moments later, Ronaldo escaped his markers again, but this time missed the far post.
While Barcelona continued to attack, the Catalans struggled to create scoring chances. On the other side though, Real didn’t have such problems with Gerard Pique especially making some less than stellar plays. Barcelona wouldn’t create their next scoring opportunity until the 42nd minute when Philippe Coutinho found Messi inside the area, but Keylor Navas left the line to prevent the shot.
The final minutes of the first half brought on plenty of chippy play and cards, including one of the red card variety. It was all brought on by Real’s aggressive, tough fouling and Barcelona players started getting very frustrated after Gareth Bale was getting away with Casemiro-type tackles that should’ve resulted in a pair of yellow cards. Add in Sergio Ramos who got away with a flailing elbow and Barcelona were fuming, resulting in pair of yellow cards to Barcelona forwards. Real’s plan of getting under Barcelona’s skin was working to perfection while the hosts’ frustrations led to a last minute red card to Roberto who swung at Marcelo for the smallest of provocations. While the referee completely lost control of the game, Barcelona lost one of their players.
Barcelona didn’t have the best first half, they did dominate until the equalizing goal, but after they were largely pedestrian, and their unbeaten run was in serious danger having to play the entire second half with only ten.
Both teams made changes during the break. Ernesto Valverde had to reinforce his defensive line, bringing on Nelson Semedo in place of the sacrificed Coutinho. Zidane left Ronaldo inside the locker due to a knock picked up when scoring the goal and replaced him with Marco Asensio.
Unlike against Celta Vigo, Barcelona looked competent in attack playing down a man, but defense was always going to be the big question. The first chance they allowed was in the 52nd minute when Asensio saw his shot saved, but Barcelona immediately countered. Saurez skipped past Varane, with some help from the swallowed whistle from Alejandro José Hernández Hernández, before finding Messi inside the area. Messi dazzled around two defenders before unleashing an unstoppable shot to put the hosts back in front. Barcelona would score again just three minutes later, but in the buildup, Ivan Rakitić was just leaning offside, though it was extremely close, and the goal was correctly ruled out.
Valverde made his second substitution already in the 58th minute, taking off another creator, Andres Iniesta, and replaced him with Paulinho. The very next minute, Barcelona launched another promising counter attack, with Suarez springing Semedo down the right wing. Spotting a wide open Paulinho in front of goal, Semedo looked to find the Brazilian, but his low pass was just out of reach and the score remained unchanged.
With 25 minutes left in the game, Real started to increase their pressure on the Barcelona defense. The visitors were buzzing around ter Stegen’s area and his teammates were struggling to clear. To add to his attacking game, Zidane brought on Lucas Vazquez in place of defender Nacho Fernandez. With Real focusing all of their efforts on the attack, they were vulnerable on the counter and Barcelona came close to exploiting that in the 70th minute. Suarez sprung Messi from inside his own area, but going one-on-one with Navas couldn’t add to Barcelona’s lead. Messi was aiming for the far post, but with his fingertips Navas prevented the goal.
It would be a missed opportunity Barcelona would quickly regret as just two minutes later Bale tied the game. It was a seemingly harmless situation just a second earlier, but Asensio brilliantly found Bale who wasted no time and left ter Stegen with no chance. Four minutes later the visitors also had a legitimate penalty claim waved off.
In the 82nd minute, Messi had two chances to put Barcelona back in front. On the first one, his try just missed the far post, on the second, after a deep turnover, Messi surprised everyone but Navas with a tough-angle right-footed shot, but the Costa Rican in goal made a brilliant save. Surviving the mini-pressure, Real went quickly back on the attack, very quickly pinning Barcelona very deep, but they couldn’t capitalize on any of their half-chances.
Playing with 10 men for an entire half, Barcelona were now suffering mightily, both because of Real’s relentless attacks and because of all the ground to cover playing a man down. In added time, Valverde made a tactical substitution with Paco Alcacer replacing Suarez. Barcelona survived the entire four minutes of added time to remain undefeated on the season with just three games left to play.