Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were at their best on Sunday night, as both scored twice in one of the best editions of El Clasico in recent memory. Barcelona and Real Madrid were evenly matched from start to finish, and there was no way to separate the two sides in their 2-2 draw.
Los Blancos were well on top for the first 25 minutes of the match as they pressured Barcelona off the ball and got numbers forward. It took a long time for Barcelona to find their rhythm, and they eventually paid for their slow start. The Blaugrana did manage to dodge couple of bullets, however, and were fortunate to go into the half having conceded only once.
Karim Benzema had the first big chance of the match in the 13th minute, when he was left unmarked but volleyed Ronaldo's cross wide. Sergio Ramos had a great chance on a set piece six minutes later, when he made a delayed run to get on the end of an uncontested header, but failed to hit the target. Benzema would eventually atone for his earlier miss by setting up the opener for Ronaldo by making a great turn with his back to goal and playing a through ball to Ronaldo. Daniel Alves was a step slow, and Ronaldo pounced before finishing near post.
Unfortunately, that didn't mark a serious turn in form for Benzema on the day. He had an even clearer chance than his earlier one in the 25th minute, but managed to hit the post. He was eventually substituted for tactical reasons.
Barcelona were dealt an injury blow in the 27th minute when Alves appeared to strain himself going in on a challenge. Tito Vilanova didn't give him a chance to run off his injury and moved to make a substitution instantly, bringing on Martin Montoya.
Lionel Messi netted his first goal of the game three minutes later, and the goal was a lucky one for Barcelona. On a cross by Pedro, Madrid failed to clear and an attempted header by Pepe went behind him, into the path of Messi. It was a perfect assist for the Argentine, who just had to tap the ball past Iker Casillas from inside the six-yard box.
The second half started at a breakneck pace, with Mesut Özil making a great run into the box just 20 seconds into the half. He went down on the edge, but the referee waived play on. Less than 30 seconds later, Messi made a brilliant run into the Madrid penalty area and crossed to the far post, but Alvaro Arbeloa made a perfect intervention to clear the danger.
Andres Iniesta nearly drew a penalty in the 52nd minute, but the referee -- who was very quick to go to his whistle throughout the first half -- saw no foul or dive. In reality, it might have been both. Pepe appeared to make some contact with Iniesta inside the penalty area, but the Barcelona playmaker was looking for the contact all the way and embellished considerably to try and win a spot kick.
Things got a bit chippy after that, with both teams being forced into big tactical fouls on the game's two biggest stars, Messi and Ronaldo. Sergio Busquets had to take a yellow card in the 54th minute to avoid giving Ronaldo a free run into the box, while Xabi Alonso had to do the same to Messi five minutes later. The foul on Ronaldo was harmless, but Madrid would be made to pay for the foul on Messi.
Barcelona went ahead on that ensuing free kick, and it was an absolute beauty from Messi. He curled the ball up and over the wall, then just under the crossbar to the left of Casillas. The Madrid keeper had no chance to make a save, and the Blaugrana went 2-1 ahead.
Ronaldo and Madrid came up with an almost instantaneous, and truly spectacular answer. The makeshift central defense pair of Adriano and Javier Mascherano was completely caught out by Los Merengues, with Mesut Özil playing architect. Mascherano stepped up to close down Özil, which turned out to be a poor decision. He played a through ball to Ronaldo, who Adriano failed to track, and Ronaldo finished calmly to match Messi's brace and lock up the score at 2-2.
Sadly for Madrid, Ronaldo picked up a shoulder injury shortly afterwards. He was visibly in pain for the remainder of the match, but played through it until the end.
Both teams had chances to score a winner, but there was perhaps some justice in the fact that neither team was able to do so. Gonzalo Higuain, who replaced Benzema following Messi's second, had a great chance to win the match on a set piece but fluffed his chance in the 84th minute. In the 88th, Barcelona almost won the match through the most unlikely of sources, Montoya, but his shot hit the crossbar.
With the draw, Barcelona have maintained their 8-point lead over Real Madrid in the La Liga standings. Madrid have a lot of ground to make up, but they'll feel like they're still in the league race by avoiding a loss at Camp Nou.