With Cruyff’s memory more present than ever before the game, Barcelona and Real Madrid battled the most uneven clash, statistically speaking, of the last few years, but an important match nonetheless to gauge both rivals for the upcoming Champions League knockout stage.

Barcelona started off better than Madrid. They had patience in the attack, providing amplitude while moving the ball and quickness when it was needed. At first, Jordi Alba was playing as the third center back, with Neymar and Dani Alves as the wingers. As the minutes went by, the Catalan left back moved to his usual position on the field. Real Madrid presented a 4-3-3 halfway defense with compact lines. The objective was that Messi, who was placed as the playmaker, couldn’t receive the ball. On this more centered position, the Argentinian found few spaces to accelerate and on the rare occasions he did have a clear field ahead of him he chose to pause the game.

Luis Enrique’s squad was in the driver’s seat. Suárez performing in his usual role as a pivot, trying to get rid of his markers and receiving with his back to the goal, made Sergio Ramos doubt given that he's perhaps the least competitive footballer in Real Madrid nowadays. The speed with ball possession was because the locals always had an open line pass to combine with a teammate and that enabled two clear chances for Rakitic and Dani Alves but Barcelona were not accurate finishing these plays.

Around the 25th minute, Barcelona lost control of the match. Their attacks were shorter, they were too direct when they didn’t need to and Madrid managed to exit their own area only for their individual technical quality. Even while having issues to build from the back, with the long balls to Bale and Marcelo’s conductions they troubled a more disorganized Barcelona as the clock ticked on. Zidane’s team also wasn’t suffering on defense. It has an outstanding merit on the few chances the trident had facing the Madrid backline, perfectly assisted by Casemiro who was very useful to his teammates showing his less attacking version.

At the beginning of the second half, Barcelona were the dominant side again, although the opening goal came after a set piece. A great corner kick by Rakitic was headed home by Piqué after getting rid of Pepe’s marking. When everything looked promising for the Blaugranas, suddenly the tables were turned. It wasn’t that Madrid leveled the game like in the last 20 minutes of the first half but instead they dominated the match at the Camp Nou with authority. The equalizer helped them believe in their chances. Modric made a great run and connected with Marcelo--perhaps the best player on the field yesterday--who cut to the inside free of opposition. Marcelo saw an open Kroos and the German’s cross hit on Alba and changed its trajectory. Benzema, who up that point was completely missing from the game, sent it to the back of the net with a superb volley. It was a brand new match with different feelings to Madrid.

Madrid benefited from Arda Turan’s substitution for Rakitic because the Turk is much slower in the defensive coverages than the Croatian, but above all because with him on the pitch instead of maintaining the possession, Barcelona lost passing lines and became more erratic. Even so, the tendency was in Madrid’s favor who were a threat on the counterattacks and didn’t have any problems in the positional defending. Gareth Bale had a goal wrongly disallowed for a non-existent foul on Jordi Alba. Not even Ramos’ ejection for his continual fouls allowed Barcelona to pause the game. Madrid first believed they could compete and then they believed they could win it and they achieved so in another counterattack finished with Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal. Barcelona couldn’t stop the incursions of a ferocious Madrid squad, with their raids by the flanks using the full backs and by the central lane with Luka Modric as the leading man.

Madrid’s greatest merit was first to endure and then believing they could overcome. Zidane accomplished that his players competed in a world-class stage, sending a clear message: if his team believes and performs as committed and organized as yesterday, he has the squad and individual quality to fight for the Champions League title. The victory which statistically speaking isn’t too relevant, it could be essential for the team’s high morale. Madrid has not returned, they never went away after all.

The culés could not read the match in the second half, they rushed and lost the order when they had everything in their favor. It’s hard to believe they were saving their energies, despite their good lead in the league’s table and their upcoming clashes against Atlético de Madrid. A derby in the Camp Nou is reason enough to not do this but Luis Enrique’s ranks were bewildered when Madrid took control of the game. The level witnessed on the second half is a serious warning considering next Tuesday's match when we will realize if yesterday was just a bump on the road or a reality. The 39 games unbeaten streak is over but Messi, Suárez and Co. are still fighting for the three titles at stake.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Ismael Ledesma.