Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have entered the pitch unbeaten in La Liga this season, with Barca leading their rivals on points difference at the top of the league.
But after the centenary edition of El Clásico at the Bernabeu stadium, it was Real Madrid who marked their authority in the league with a 3-1 victory on Sunday, despite a late comeback from Barcelona.
Madrid appeared to be heading for victory after goals from Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde gave them a 2-0 half-time lead, while midway through the second half Benzema celebrated as if he had added a third only for him to be flagged for offside.
But as the game seemed to be losing steam towards a regulation victory for Madrid, Barcelona hit Ferran Torres to make it 2-1 and set up a grandstand final.
Although Barcelona continued to press for an equaliser, it was Madrid who confirmed their ultimately comfortable win with a penalty from Rodrygo.
Each team had experienced very different break-ins this weekend.
While Madrid qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday, Barcelona’s hopes of making it to the Round of 16 are hanging by a thread after a spectacular draw against Inter Milan.
European champions Real showed their unforgiving streak in the first half, clinically taking a 2-0 lead at the break.
First, 12 minutes later, Karim Benzema swerved into goal after Vinícius Júnior edged Sergi Roberto down the wing but couldn’t get his first effort past goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Then a glorious team effort doubled Madrid’s lead 23 minutes later, as Valverde skillfully finished off passes from Vinícius Júnior, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Ferland Mendy.
Barcelona only had glimmers, half chances that stalled at the last moment – like a slid ball towards Robert Lewandowski that his foot could only pick up, rather than into the goal – as they struggled to unblock the Real Madrid defense.
And after half-time the pattern continued with Real easily controlling possession until the 83rd minute, when substitute Anssumane Fati’s cross found Torres to bring his side back into contention.
Fati injected some urgency into Barcelona’s attack, but just as the game was starting to open, the referee awarded Madrid a penalty for Eric García’s trip on Rodrygo.
Rodrygo stepped in and made no mistakes at the finish to confirm his team’s victory and their place at the top of the standings.