There was no guard of honour, and only pride at stake in the Clasico this time around. Yet it was a thrilling tie full of tension, hard tackles and plenty of tough decisions for referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez as ultimately both sides ended the tie satisfied with the result.
Barcelona dominated the opening stages and it was Luis Suarez who opened the scoring with his 30th goal of the season, capitalising on a superb team move from deep which played in Sergi Roberto in acres of space down the right flank. The Catalan burst forward and crossed the ball perfectly onto the Uruguayan’s shin to smash the ball beyond Keylor Navas.
Real Madrid were struggling to get any foothold in the game but reacted quickly with an equaliser as Cristiano Ronaldo showed his pace down the wing, cut back to Toni Kroos and then continued his run to get on the end of Karim Benzema’s header to poke it into the back of the net.
Then Los Blancos took control. Cristiano Ronaldo had two chances, racing through again but this time being denied by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and then firing inches wide.
The real turning point came just minutes before the break as tensions continued to rise and Sergi Roberto was shown a straight red card, if very soft, for lashing out at Marcelo. Replays showed no contact to justify the dramatic reaction, but Roberto was sent for an early bath.
Still struggling having picked up a knock as he scored the equaliser, Cristiano Ronaldo was forced off at half-time and replaced by Marco Asensio as Nelson Semedo also came on for Philippe Coutinho in a tactical switch for the hosts.
Bizarrely, Barcelona came out all guns blazing in the second half, perhaps buoyed by Ronaldo’s withdrawal, and Suarez shrugged off Raphael Varane to set up Lionel Messi, who teased the Real Madrid defence before firing into the bottom corner to give the 10 men of Barcelona the lead.
Real Madrid regained command after Andres Iniesta was replaced by Paulinho and Gareth Bale was the man to equalise when he sent a rocket flying into the back of the net after Marco Asensio’s through ball.
The visitors could have had a third as Marcelo appeared to be fouled by Jordi Alba in the penalty box as he caught his shin in the box but nothing was given.
In the end, it was to end all square with neither side particularly happy, nor particularly disappointed with the result. For Barcelona, their unbeaten run was protected. For Real Madrid, humiliation was avoided.
FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Coutinho (Semedo, 46), Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta (Paulinho, 58); Messi, Suarez.
Real Madrid: Navas; Nacho (Vazquez, 68), Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos (Kovacic, 84), Modric; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo (Asensio, 46).