Real Madrid travelled to Camp Nou last night to play out a goalless draw vs Barcelona in the LaLiga. This is the first time in the last 17 years that this fixture ended 0-0.
Sharing the spoils with one point each, both teams remain on 36 points with the Catalan club placed first and Real placed second. Sevilla are the closest contenders to upset the onion cart (its 2019 and apples cost less) with 31 points, all having played 17 games each. And come to think of it, after last night's display, Sevilla would be a welcome agitator to break the hegemony that has jaded a league that not too long ago was once the centre of the footballing world.
We look at some of the talking points that extend beyond merely the 0-0 result on the pitch:
Evenly-matched, quite literally, too literally
Pre-match statistics often serve as a preamble to a match. Though, of course, the formbook has to to be doused in gasoline, put through the paper shredder, and be usefully used to start a dumpster fire when it comes to winter derbies, but on this occasion, it read out like a tarot card session for both teams involved.
A total 13 points from the last five games, 35 points each this season, with Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema both on 12 goals as topscorers for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. As far as Clasico wins go, heading into this match, it was split right down the middle with 72 each.
It held little surprise that the matched ended the way it did, even less so if you read tea-leaves.
No Cristiano no party
As the world warmed their seats for the spectacle of the Clasico last night, Cristiano Ronaldo was half-way rising above two hapless Sampdoria defenders to score (fifth in his last sixgames).
You'd think he has two tiny trampolines grafted into his Achilles with the hang time he generated, but it is not as surprising when you consider the Portuguese striker employed NBA accredited coaches in peak performance centres in the USA to help his leap in the spring of 2018. He was due for a change in climes and so too his role that would almost exclusively focus on racking up goals in Juventus as a striker. And he is succeeding as Cristiano Ronaldo does. "Ronaldo did something that you see in the NBA; he was up in the air for an hour and a half it seemed like. There is nothing you can do about it. You can only congratulate him and move on," said a visibly stoic Sampdoria coach, Claudio Ranieri.
Since his move to Juventus, the stat monster has notched up 28 goals and 10 assists in 43 appearances in his transition season. And in 2019-20, playing almost twice the number of times as a centre-forward (13) than a left forward (seven), he has notched up 12 goals and two assists. This is important in the larger narrative of the El Clasico, as it tells us two things: a) Ronaldo doesn't miss LaLiga as much as the LaLiga misses him. b) The Portuguese star is constantly reinventing himself, with a zero-tolerance policy for complacency. Not something one can say about the Spanish League.
For instance, it was the first time in the last eight years that broadcasting giants in India opted out for the telecast of the El Clasico, an event that was almost universally watched owing to the subplots in the Lionel Messi-Ronaldo rivalry. In fact, a midweek Bundesliga fixture featuring Borussia Monchengladbach and Paderborn was preferred. Alternatively, you'd have had better value watching Liverpool take on Monterrey at the Club World Cup.
The subcontinent, despite being a cricket-savvy nation on the whole, only trails China when it comes to dictating the benchmark in football broadcasting valuation. A sheer drop in viewership number were reported widely last summer as LaLiga featured its first-ever Ronaldo-less Clasico, that led to this decision.
As far as things that go on the pitch is concerned, despite the recruitment drive by Real Madrid, Eden Hazard has not been able to match the celebrity nor the clutch play. Last night, without Ronaldo, the Russel terrier of a striker that is Benzema looked shepherdless, with no one of stature to direct the play to. Gareth Bale looked distracted. Even Lionel Messi was Odysseus without a quest. Everything was all a little too pre-cooked and microwave-ready and tasted like plastic.
As much as a football idealist would hate to admit it, as much as the game is a team sport, it is neither aspirational nor TRP inducing enough without its gaudy quarterback culture and feuding rockstars.
Throw in a pig head or two
The pig head on the pitch as a response from Barcelona fans to Luis Figo's move to Real Madrid was a seminal moment in both the club's rivalries. It was two years and three months short of a decade ago, and a decade since this fixture has provided us with 126 goals each with a three-part act of its own.
Last night, the most unseemly drama game from the stands where unfortunately 46 fans were reportedly injured on the backdrop of the sizzling separatist political narrative (Barcelona as a region wants autonomous rights away from the exploitative politics of Spain).
The stage that has acted as both balm and distraction from the ails of society served no highlights barring half-baked chances and muted penalty shouts: Real Madrid's Raphael Varane was brought down twice, once by Clement Lenglet and then by Ivan Rakitic. Real's industrious Federico Valverde took punts at goal. Real found the net but Gareth Bale's goal was ruled out as full-back Ferland Mendy strayed offside before delivering the cross.
Real manager Zinedine Zidane claimed his team's superiority in the post-match presser: "I'm very pleased," he said. "But when you have chances, you have to take them." But in truth, his team a lot of help coming their way from a dishevelled Barcelona.
Without an ill Sergio Busquets, Barcelona was an orchestra with a missing conductor. For Real Madrid, Casemiro was the one that enforced his abruptness into the game. A header by the Brazilian enforcer was cleared off the goal line by Gearard Pique while Sergio Ramos on the other side kept a Lionel Messi effort from going in.
Messi himself tried on several occasions to raise the bar of the Barca attack, playing one scandalous pass to Jordi Alba who unfortunately bungled the chance under pressure.
Luis Suarez did as Luis Saurez does by leaving his studs trailing on a few Real Madrid ankles to get the blood boiling, but the passivity of the game cancelled that out.
Toni Kross out of instinct and force of habit often played passes that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been better suited to get at the end of. And that was the theme of the night. It was prom night but without the prom queen. Hardly a classic.