Two of the greatest teams on the planet. The two greatest players on the planet. Two of the most estranged ideologies on the planet. This can only be one game. Barcelona versus Real Madrid. El Clasico. The most viewed game in the world.
Twice these sides have met already this season, and whilst entertaining games they were, Real’s away goals victory over Barcelona in the Super Cup means absolutely nothing.
Everyone knows the history now. Catalunya v the still-Francoist-viewed Real Madrid, a conflict of people, of nationalism. But suddenly a new way of creating tension emerged, even at this early stage of the season.
Just six games in and Real were already trailing Barcelona by eight points, having already suffered two defeats, not best served to their hopes of retaining the title they had waited so long to reclaim from Barca.
Then there was the Barcelona perspective: A 100% record in La Primera so far and local passions rising so much that protests for independence took place.
A recent poll had suggested over 50% of Catalonians had suggested they would vote for independence and the crowd took this opportunity to make a stand, chanting ‘Indepencia’ at 17:14 minutes into every half, marking the year Catalunya last had independence from Spain.
And so all of this build up, all this tension, all this potential conflict, saw the game end up in a draw.
It would have only been too easy for either of these sides to have won, to state a major blow for their side of what has become almost a sporting war.
But no. There was no separation. Barca may have lost their 100% record in La Liga, but they can rest easy knowing they have not conceded any ground to the team that will be their closest rivals come the end of the season.
Real came into Camp Nou with a full squad, while Barca had the challenge of entering the game without their first choice central defence, Carles Puyol out with a sickening shoulder injury against Benfica, while Gerard Pique failed a late fitness test on an ankle injury.
It was no classic, despite the title. It was niggly and far from a polished performance from either side, who both knew a draw would suffice either team.
The first half saw roles reversed from what you would expect of either side. Real’s opener was a master-class of one-touch passing, an interlinking move ending with Cristiano Ronaldo firing past Victor Valdes’ near post.
But back came Barca, a cross into the box deflecting off two players, before Pepe’s comically mistimed leap gave Lionel Messi the easiest of chances to tap beyond Iker Casillas.
The second half saw Real not willing to settle, but attacking their hosts, before a daft tackle from Xabi Alonso gave Barca the opportunity to take the lead.
Alonso was perhaps fortunate not to receive his second yellow of the match, but his team was not so fortunate, as Messi curled a delightful free-kick over the wall and past a despairing Casillas.
Ronaldo gave Messi little time to enjoy the limelight, as he took advantage of Barca’s makeshift central partnership of Adriano and Javier Mascherano pushing up-field, snaking into the gap and emphatically slotting home to bring the scores level again.
There was little to decide between the sides until late on, as Barca piled on the pressure in search of the win, buoyed by the nationalistic surge running through the home stadium. Martin Montoya curled a delightful effort onto the crossbar and Pedro shot wide late on, but it was to be honours even at Camp Nou.
So how much has been settled? Absolutely nothing. Barca don’t have the win that could have given Catalonian nationalism a wonderful boost, while Real did not gain the win that could put them back in a position to make a title challenge, with the gap already sitting at an uncomfortable amount.
Both will look at the league and accept a draw however. Barca will know they have enough of a gap to stave off Real, barring any silly mistakes, while Real will see an point at Camp Nou as an improvement on recent seasons, giving them something to build upon after a stuttering start.
Nothing can separate the main protagonists either as Messi and Ronaldo sit level at the top of the goal-scoring charts, alongside Falcao.
This game has so much significance to the overall footballing world, that few remember that there is still points to fight for and a title to decide.
This is early days. Cast aside the political significance to this match and you see a dead heat between the two sides most likely to challenge for the title and neither will be upset with the overall result.
Tags: Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo, El Clasico, La Liga, Lionel Messi, Real Madrid