Barcelona Remains Atop La Liga After 0-0 Draw with Real Madrid in El Clasico

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2019

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 18:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona holds off Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid during the Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 18, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona are still top of La Liga, despite being held to a 0-0 draw by bitter rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on Wednesday night.

Both sides spurned chances in the first half of what was generally a scrappy affair. Barca centre-back Gerard Pique cleared off his line early, while Real skipper Sergio Ramos followed suit at the other end before the break.

The stalemate at the Camp Nou means Barca still lead the way, thanks to the defending champions' superior goal difference.

Barca almost fell behind as early as the 18th minute when Karim Benzema and Casemiro got their heads to a cross at the back post at the same time. Their attempt looped over Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the home side's goal, but Pique was able to head off the line.

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

CLUTCH LEVEL: @3gerardpique. 💯 #ElClasico https://t.co/AfjWhBFwfU

Not deterred, Real continued to press and were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Clement Lenglet appeared to catch Raphael Varane after a tangle in the box. The latter was causing havoc whenever he ventured forward for set pieces, and he drew more strong shouts for a spot-kick when he was pulled back inside the area.

The Spanish Football Podcast @tsf_podcast

Here are those two Varane penalty shouts https://t.co/xzrPaRYoaL

Los Merengues didn't get either decision but kept the pressure on, with Casemiro forcing Ter Stegen into a smart stop from distance.

Barca finally woke from their slumber 12 minutes before the break when Lionel Messi wriggled free and saw his shot take a deflection off Casemiro. The ball was on its way in until Ramos hooked it off the line.

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

Anything Pique can do... 👊 @SergioRamos 👊  #ElClasico https://t.co/t5DLKsPglk

Messi looked in the mood at last, though, and his inch-perfect pass released Jordi Alba in behind the Real defence, but the raiding left-back's shot was wayward.

At the other end, Federico Valverde forced Ter Stegen into action as a half the visitors mostly dominated drew to a close.

OptaJose @OptaJose

12 - @realmadriden mustered 12 shots in the opening 45 minutes against Barcelona, their highest total in a first half at Camp Nou in #ElClásico in all competitions since at least 2003/04. Brave. https://t.co/2Vk6EC3f9S

The second half began much the way it had ended with Real going close once more. This time, Benzema headed against the side netting after being picked out by Dani Carvajal. Benzema's near miss was followed by Gareth Bale hammering a long-range sighter wide.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane sensed the moment was still there for his side and reacted by swapping Valverde and Isco for Luka Modric and Rodrygo Goes. The substitutions almost paid off immediately when Modric released Bale, but Ter Stegen alertly beat the Welshman to the ball.

In the other dugout, Barca gaffer Ernesto Valverde had hoped for some inspiration from impish forward Ansu Fati, but the 17-year-old couldn't deliver, despite making history in this storied fixture:

LaLiga @LaLigaEN

𝟏𝟕 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝟒𝟖 𝐝𝐚𝐲𝐬. @ANSUFATI becomes the YOUNGEST player to feature in #ElClasico this century! 🙌 💙 @FCBarcelona ❤️ https://t.co/AC9CnqIY2T

Ultimately, both managers and squads seemed content to share the spoils. They are each capable of producing much more, but Real are likely to take greater heart from the point earned.

Zidane's men have the resolve, quality and depth to eventually snatch the title from the old enemy.


What's Next?

Barca host Alaves on Saturday, while Real will be at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.