Barcelona rides luck to fiery, controversial Clasico draw with Real Madrid

Luis Suarez and Sergio Ramos were two of the chief instigators in a wild game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. (Getty)
Luis Suarez and Sergio Ramos were two of the chief instigators in a wild game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. (Getty)

The final Clasico of the 2017-18 season had it all. It had all the quality you would expect from Real Madrid and Barcelona. It had world-class individual goals and flowing team moves. It had controversial calls and non-calls. It had a red card, eight yellows, and clash after fiery clash accentuating, not interrupting, beauty and skill.

And at the end of it all, Barcelona stayed unbeaten. Somehow.

Barca and Madrid battled to a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou on Sunday that won’t affect the La Liga table one bit. The Catalans are champions. The Madrileños are focused on the Champions League.

But a game that many suggested could be “decaffeinated” was anything but. The stars came to play. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale all scored. And ultimately, Barca – 10-man Barca, that is – was both fortunate and relieved to come away with a point.

Many postgame discussions will begin and end with the referee. Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez sent off Sergi Roberto late in the first half for a half-punch, half-stab on Marcelo. But he was correct there. He was incorrect in the second half when he missed an obvious Suarez foul that led to Messi’s goal, and when he refused to punish Jordi Alba’s leg-to-leg contact with Marcelo in the Barca penalty box.

But both teams played well enough to get a result. Both teams played more than well enough. So perhaps the draw was just.

Barcelona began with energy and control, and capped off an excellent 10 minutes with a superb goal. Suarez sprung Roberto down the right. Roberto, rather than rush a cross to Messi, picked out Suarez’s late run to the far post, and the Uruguayan buried it back across Keylor Navas into the Madrid net:

And for a few minutes after the goal, Barca was on top. But soon enough, Real Madrid hit back. It played through Barca’s lacking midfield pressure. Toni Kroos led the break, and supplied Karim Benzema with a wonderful cross. Benzema, peeling away at the back post, nodded across the face of goal for Ronaldo. Ronaldo finished on the doorstep:

And he paid the price. He turned his ankle on the finish, and would later have to come off at halftime.

Real’s catalyst stayed in the game for the time being, though, and was one of several reasons the visitors seized control. Barcelona’s midfield became invisible. Space in between the Barca lines seemed infinite. Madrid picked its way through the hosts time and time again. Ronaldo was played through twice, but was denied by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen on one occasion; he fired wide with his left foot on the other.

Real spent much of the first half as the better team, and figured to stay on top into the second half – especially when Roberto lashed out at Marcelo and was sent off in first-half stoppage time:

Roberto’s stupidity was the culmination of a fiery end to the half. Minutes earlier, Suarez and Sergio Ramos had scuffled after a whistle, and earned yellows.

Messi subsequently clattered into Ramos near the sideline and earned a yellow. Barca seemed to be a bit rattled.

But early in the second half, it was Barca’s turn to flip the game on its head. Messi brought the home fans to their feet, and put the champions back in front:

Real Madrid players howled about a foul in the buildup to the goal, though. And they absolutely had a point. Suarez clearly hacked down Raphael Varane. On replay, it appeared to be intentional. The referee, however, swallowed his whistle.

He would again swallow his whistle when Marcelo was fouled in the penalty area by Jordi Alba.

And at that point, a penalty would have put Real Madrid in the lead. Because Bale, a somewhat surprising inclusion in the starting 11, had curled in a stunning goal to level matters midway through the second half:

As the game wore on, it increasingly became one-way traffic. Messi had two chances on the break, but was twice denied by a clever, diving Navas. Other than that, Real Madrid probed, and probed some more.

But it could not inflict enough damage. It could not compromise Barca’s invincibility. The draw, especially given the red card – and especially given the second-half strokes of good fortune – will feel like a victory for Barcelona. And victory enabled the feel-good celebrations that Barca’s La Liga campaign has warranted.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.