It won't serve as much consolation to Jose Mourinho—whose Real Madrid team was once again thwarted by Barcelona with complete disregard for his status as "The Special One"—but this was a Clasico they should have won easily.
Madrid was the better team Wednesday at Camp Nou. Not just for the frantic opening exchanges in which they should have scored at least twice, but on the balance of 93 pulsating minutes that reinforced the El Clasico brand as, quite simply, essential.
Those who tuned in for the start of the match surely never tuned out.
Inside 15 seconds we saw Gonzalo Higuain clean through on goal, only to shank wide. Two minutes later and Higuain again. This time, Barca keeper Jose Manuel Pinto made a save. Soon after, Cristiano Ronaldo fizzed one wide.
Mourinho's men were swarming all over Barca like an army of battle-ready orcs, but we'd seen this part of the script before. We knew what was coming next.
With every blow Barca withstood, the inevitable loomed larger. Pinto saved a Ronaldo cracker. Madrid had a penalty appeal turned down. Mesut Ozil shook the crossbar with a dipping missile from 25 yards.
And then it happened, as predictably as a cynical foul from Pepe.
Lionel Messi picked a pass through a forest of legs, and Pedro swept home to give the home side an undeserved lead. Minutes later, Dani Alves blazed a right-footed blockbuster into the top corner.
Barca, for once, had been comprehensively outplayed, but they went into the break leading 2-0 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate. And with Madrid players threatening to explode with rage.
Great sides win when they play badly, so they say. They win when they have no right to. For the opposition, it must be a truly maddening thing to behold.
There was now a very real sense that Madrid's reputation, sullied by Pepe's stamp on Messi in last week's 2-1 defeat, was at risk of further damage.
Barca have a scent for blood keener than most, and Mourinho's team would not take humiliation lightly. Were we about to witness a massacre of pride that cast further doubt on his leadership capabilities?
As it turns out, we were about to witness precisely the opposite.
Whatever Mourinho said in the dressing room at halftime not just averted disaster, but very nearly produced one of the most unlikely triumphs of an unlikely career.
Through Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Madrid pulled it back to 2-2 and could have won it. They played with spirit, conviction and belief and maintained their discipline almost throughout. They came within touching distance of inflicting Barca's first loss at Camp Nou this season.
"At halftime I didn't have to talk much because we were playing so well," Mourinho said in the press conference that followed.
"They scored without having done anything to score while we had three, four or five great chances. I would congratulate Barcelona for the victory at the Bernabeu, but not today."
The defiance we're used to, but this time it was justified. Mourinho now has just one Clasico victory from 10 attempts, but on Wednesday, his team delivered its most convincing argument yet that they're ready to challenge Pep Guardiola's pass-masters.
Barca went through on the night, but the moral victory went to Madrid and the manager who gave them fresh belief at Camp Nou.
Next time, Barca might not be so lucky.