Barcelona emerged from a thrilling Clasico the more satisfied on Sunday as the 10-man Catalans edged closer to a first unbeaten La Liga season following a 2-2 draw with Real Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergi Roberto both missed the second half at Camp Nou, the first injured, the second sent off, as Gareth Bale’s late strike rescued Real a point. Lionel Messi had given Barca the lead after early goals from Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
Barca, already crowned champions, remain 15 points ahead of Real in the table but this clash was about more than just points.
Here, we look at five things we learned from a controversial contest.
No such thing as a dead Clasico
If Sunday’s match proved anything, it is that the Clasico always means something. Eight yellow cards and one red pointed to the heat in the game, which fizzed throughout and briefly erupted during five bad-tempered minutes at the end of the first half. Without the usual relevance to the league table, and with their differing fates in La Liga and the Champions League, this match came down to a basic need to prove one team was better than the other. Barca will claim Real scraped a draw against opponents down to 10 men for half of the match while Real will say they were without their star player for the same time, and perhaps longer at full fitness. And that is not to mention the many grievances against the referee, from both sides, that could have swung the result. In the end, the debate was left open.
Ronaldo makes Real sweat
Zinedine Zidane’s nightmare, far more than a defeat at Camp Nou, would surely have been to lose Cristiano Ronaldo to injury less than three weeks before the Champions League final. Real now face an anxious wait to discover the extent of the damage, with tests due to be carried out on Monday. After the match, Zidane reported that Ronaldo had said it was only a “small problem” but in the same breath admitted the striker was a “little bit worried” by the swelling. The hope will be that Ronaldo played on for 31 minutes after his collision with Gerard Pique because the damage was not significant, rather than made it worse to avoid sitting out a Clasico. Either way, the Portugese will now endure the unwanted attention that comes with sustaining an injury so close to a crunch game. Liverpool will watch with interest.
Barca showing their champion colours
Perhaps if there was a match to demonstrate all the attributes that pushed Barcelona to a domestic double, this was it. There was the individual brilliance of Messi, who steered the momentum by putting his side ahead with a superb solo effort in the second half. There was the important save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who denied Ronaldo early on. There was the grit and resilience instilled by Ernesto Valverde, as Barca played for 45 minutes a man down but still eked out a draw. There was the standing ovation for Andres Iniesta and valuable opener from Luis Suarez. There was also a little bit of luck, as Real were denied a clear penalty late on when Jordi Alba booted Marcelo. This was Barca, not always at their mesmerising best, but gutsy and, in the league at least, unbeatable.
Bale makes his case
Gareth Bale had the last word and he will hope Zidane was listening. After being left on the bench for both semi-final legs against Bayern Munich, and taken off at half-time against Juventus, Bale is most likely to start the Champions League final against Liverpool as a substitute. He has three more games to change Zidane’s mind and this was a decent start, his goal, a left-footed curler into the top corner, reminiscent of the forward at his sensational best. But it was not all plain-sailing for Bale, who was lucky not to be sent off for thrusting his studs into Samuel Umtiti’s calf and, for large spells, was a bit of a bystander out wide. This was Bale’s 15th goal in 24 games this year, an impressive record, but perhaps Zidane was left still wanting more.
VAR will add accuracy, but at what cost?
This would have been a fascinating test-case for VAR, a match that was ultimately decided by poor refereeing decisions but defined by its fluency, tempo and aggression. La Liga will introduce video technology next season and Zidane, rather pointedly, said: “Then we’ll see how a match like this turns out.” But the bad calls hindered both teams. VAR might have ensured Real were awarded a late penalty, Bale was sent off, Suarez penalised before Messi’s goal and a second Suarez goal, ruled out for offside, stood. But would the game have been better for it? Perhaps more accurate, but the stoppages would also have killed its rhythm. This match showed why VAR can be valuable but cannot be intrusive.