A late Sergio Ramos header earned Real Madrid a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the first Clasico of the 2016-17 La Liga season on Saturday evening at the Camp Nou
Luis Suarez gave the Catalonians a lead in the 53rd minute with a header that looked like it would hold up, but Ramos struck in the 90th minute with a header himself to give Los Blancos the precious point that maintains Real's six-point advantage over Barcelona atop the table.
It was surely a gut punch for Barcelona, who played a much better second half thanks to the return of Andres Iniesta from injury. However Real, as they always do, fought until the end and once again Ramos proved lethal on a set piece to break the heart of an opponent.
With Gareth Bale out with an injury, Lucas Vazquez was back in attack for Real boss Zinedine Zidane, while Casemiro was relegated to the bench, giving Mateo Kovacic a start in Los Blancos' midfield. Although Andres Iniesta was healthy enough to return to the gameday roster, it was still too early for the veteran midfielder to start, so it was Andre Gomes getting the nod. Otherwise, it was a full-strength XI for manager Luis Enrique.
The first minutes were marked by a pair of controversies, with each team laying claim to a penalty, but referee Clos Gomez quickly dismissing those claims. While Real may have come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, it morphed into a 4-4-2 as Barcelona dominated possession early on and had the guests planted in their own area. But the threat of a lightning-quick counterattack lurked and every time Real tried to break, Barcelona set out either to foul or dispossess Los Blancos.
Real soon grew into the game, as the majority of their runs into the Barcelona area were aimed at right-back Sergi Roberto. Ivan Rakitic was failing to close down in defence and it allowed Marcelo to fire in a number of dangerous balls into the area for Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
Barcelona were not moving the ball with their usual crispness. Balls were lost, passes went awry and with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane providing solidity on the Real back line, the hosts' scoring chances were non-existent. Real were dominating the midfield battle; Luka Modric, Isco and Kovacic were far more effective than counterparts Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Andre Gomes and that made Ronaldo and Karim
Benzema a threat every time Real had the ball, while at the other end Luis Suarez was a non-factor.
Real's best looks at goal came at the end of the half when a deep Benzema cross into the area had to be desperately cleared by Gerard Piqué, with the resulting corner kick reaching Varane, whose header went right to the feet of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Half-time came at a good time for Barcelona and with the match still scoreless, Luis Enrique had an opportunity to recalibrate for the second half. Both teams were unchanged to start the second half, but there was more urgency from the home side and that translated into the game's first goal eight minutes after the re-start. Neymar earned a free kick on the left side of the area and the resulting free kick from the Brazilian reached Suarez, who beat Varane to the ball and thumped in the header past Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead.
At the hour mark Luis Enrique made his first change in swapping off Rakitic for Iniesta, who had missed the previous five weeks due to injury. Spain's World Cup hero restored order to the Barcelona midfield. Zidane countered minutes later with Casemiro coming on for Isco, thus pushing Modric further upfield to help reignite the Real attack on the right.
Still, Barcelona appeared to have the better of play and Neymar could have really complicated things for Real, but instead sent a shot to the heavens when he was in on Navas. Real sought a response in the final quarter-hour so Zidane opted for Asensio to replace Benzema, while for Barcelona the banged up Andre Gomes yielded his spot to Arda Turan. Real had regained control of the match in search of the equaliser, but the Barcelona defence stood firm. With Real pressing higher for a goal, the space opened for Barcelona and Messi nearly finished off the visitors from the capital in the final 10 minutes, but his shot blazed inches wide of the far post.
In classic Real style, Los Blancos fought until the end and used the aerial game to create chances. A minute after Ronaldo had a header cleared by Jordi Alba, but on this occasion it could only be one man to strike late: Ramos. Like he has done so many times before, notably in the 2014 Champions League final, Ramos scored off a set piece to bring Real level. Modric looped in a free kick and Ramos, taking advantage of a Mascherano slip, was able to head in from just a few yards out to make it 1-1.
The goal stunned the Camp Nou. Barcelona made a last-ditch charge at a winner, but it was not meant to be as Real emerged with a draw that for sure felt like a victory.
1.- Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Kovacic (Mariano, min. 86), Modric, Isco (Casemiro, min. 66); Lucas Vázquez, Ronaldo, Benzema (Asensio, min. 77)
1.- FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Rakitic (Iniesta, min. 60), André Gomes (Turan, min. 77); Messi, Suárez, Neymar (Denis Suarez, min. 88)
Goals: 1-0, min. 53: Suarez; 1-1, min. 90: Ramos
Referee: Clos Gomez (Aragon). Yellow Cards: Isco (min. 13) for Real Madrid, Neymar (min. 28) for Barcelona, Suarez (min. 75) for Barcelona, Carvajal (min. 80) for Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets (min. 83), Mascherano (min. 90)
Red cards: None
Stadium: Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Zidane: This does not taste like a win
With their 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid kept up their six-point lead at the top of the LaLiga table, but Zinedine Zidane warned against complacency.
Although the Frenchman insisted that he was happy to have secured a point, he urged his players to keep adding to their tally and to return to winning ways in the coming weeks.
"This is not the kind of draw that tastes like a win," he told reporters in his press conference.
"It's just one point and not three, but it's true that we are pleased because it's a good point.
"We keep picking them up and we'll see what happens in the next game.
"I don't believe this is a blow for Barcelona's morale.
"We have six points, but nothing changes as the season is long."
Discussing the flow of the game, the 44-year-old believed that his side had good chances in the first half and that the Blaugrana were given extra motivation by scoring just after the half-time break.
"If we had scored in first half then it might have been a different game," he said. "Then, when they scored it lifted them and it made the game more difficult.
"I'm not sure if it's a fair result, but it is what it is."
Speaking about some of the individual performances, the Frenchman had special praise for his goalscorer Sergio Ramos and was also encouraged by the impact substitutes Casemiro and Mariano were able to have.
"[Ramos] has a lot of personality and never gives up," Zidane said in his press conference.
"With Casemiro, we wanted him on for more fresh legs and to allow Mateo [Kovacic] and [Luka] Modric to go further forward. As for Mariano, he was one of our alternatives.
"It was a collective effort, with Karim [Benzema] and Cristiano [Ronaldo] also contributing.
"We have lots of different players who offer different things for me and today we saw that they're all important and that we need all of them right to the end."
The point moves Real Madrid on to 34 for the season and it also extends their undefeated run to 33 matches, a record that will once again be tested this midweek when Borussia Dortmund visit the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Luis Enrique: The instructions were clear, do not give away fouls
This latest El Clasico was far from a memorable spectacle in terms of magical moments and goals yet Enrique made clear his team had done enough in the second half to secure all three points.
"The first half was very balanced with two good teams facing each other, in the second half we took control and created numerous chances," he said. "We deserved to win because of what we created but now we have to improve from here."
Luis Suarez failed to hide his frustration with Los Cules inability to close the game and these frustrations are shared by his coach as he made clear after the full-time whistle.
"It is a six point gap, this isn't where we wanted to be, we could have closed this match, we had it in hand but have somehow failed to take the win."
Perhaps the sole positive for the Catalan giants to take from a difficult afternoon was the return of club captain Andres Iniesta after a significant injury lay-off.
The Spanish midfielder brought the Camp Nou to his feet when he was brought on as a second half substitute and his influence is not lost on the Asturian coach.
It is clear Iniesta is a different player, his contribution today was perfect, he provided clarity, vision and most of all hard work."