It was a night when tension and drama were expected both on and off the field. As 99,000 raised their yellow and red placards to create a spectacular Senyera-coloured backdrop for the beginning of the first league Clasico of the season, it was hard to avoid the political connotations that had surrounded the build-up to the game Thankfully, by the end, there was little talk of independence, conspiracies or eye-gouges, rather just an appreciation for a couple of geniuses from Rosario and Madeira.
So often this fixture is wrongly labelled as Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo, there are so many variables affecting how each can perform, not least the array of world class opponents lined up to try and stop them, but on Sunday night there was no stopping either man as they scored all four goals in a match that swung one way then the other.
As has been the norm in recent encounters between the two it was Real who jumped out of the gate quickest. When Ronaldo gave them the lead with a fierce left-footed drive midway through the half it was no surprise as the Catalan crowd, as much as its players, seemed to take a collective breath any time the ball went near their makeshift defence of Jordi Alba, Adriano, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves.
Moments later Madrid should have made it two and possibly put the game beyond Barca as Angel Di Maria found Karim Benzema free 10 yards from goal but falling away the Frenchman could only strike the post and with his balance may have gone Madrid’s title hopes. Within five minutes Messi had restored parity with the hosts’ first clear opening and from then on they looked far less likely to allow their eight-point lead over Los Blancos to be breached.
Jose Mourinho rightly said afterwards that “It should be prohibited to say who is the best player in the world. These two are from a different planet.” However, one area normally handed to Ronaldo in the endless comparisons may have to be recalibrated. It appears we already have our answer as to what Messi could do with a free summer behind him and that is work on his free-kick technique as, for the second Clasico in a row and for already the third time this season, he curled a beauty into the top corner to leave Iker Casillas helpless on the hour.
“Your turn Ronaldo” was the cry on twitter to Messi’s latest heroics and the Portuguese was not to be found wanting as this time he equalised within five minutes, taking advantage of some horrible disorganisation in the Barca back four which saw three men trying to play offside with Adriano some five yards behind the rest.
The joy of Barcelona’s intent, some would say naivety, was there to behold in the final 20 minutes as almost any other side sitting eight points clear of their title rivals would settle for the point rather than relentlessly pour forward against the best counter-attacking side in the world, but despite coming closest through a Martin Montoya strike off the bar and Pedro’s curling effort with virtually the last kick of the game, there wasn’t to be a winner.
Apart that is from those who got to watch it. After the ugly scenes that marked what should have been a brilliant spectacle of four Clasicos in 18 days in April 2011, the nine games between the two over the past year have averaged four goals a game.
Fittingly those four this time belonged to the world’s two best who continued to re-write the history books, Ronaldo becoming the first player ever to score in six straight Clasicos whilst Messi is now just one behind the great Alfredo Di Stefano as the highest scorer in the fixture’s 221-match history.
Time will remember both and we should enjoy them whilst they are here rather than constantly downing one in favour of the other. Anyway, neither of them are even La Liga’s most lethal marksman. He was on show at the Calderon for the Clasico after party as Radamel Falcao scored the opener and then forced Weligton into a last minute own goal as Atletico Madrid ended Malaga’s 11-game unbeaten run and moved joint top of the table with Barcelona. There could be a Madrid-Barcelona title race yet.