Gareth Bale denied with Barcelona and Real Madrid distracted by protests.

Gareth Bale denied with Barcelona and Real Madrid distracted by protests.

It was not supposed to be like this. The game that always delivers didn’t, the clásico ending 0-0 for the first time in 17 years and 47 games, going back to the night someone threw a pig’s head at Luís Figo. The biggest club rivalry in world football, a meeting that has produced 126 goals in the past decade alone, produced none here. Only Gareth Bale found the net but it was ruled out, leaving Real Madrid and Barcelona taking a point each, still level at the top.

At the final whistle there was timid applause, a few whistles too, but mostly there was quiet – punctured by the PA announcer repeatedly telling supporters not to leave out of the south end of the stadium, where smoke rose over the stands. There had been trouble there during a game that had been politically charged, with reports suggesting 46 people had been injured, but inside surprisingly little happened either off the pitch or on it. Ernesto Valverde said his players had not been affected, but it ended up an unusually flat occasion, played 53 days after it was originally scheduled.

No one found a way through and as time ticked away no one looked particularly likely to either. Real Madrid will be the more frustrated at failing to get a goal their manager felt they deserved. “I’m very pleased with the performance,” Zinedine Zidane said. “But when you have chances, you have to take them.” That said, despite dominating the first half, racking up the shots, few of those chances were totally clear-cut. There were two penalty shouts for challenges on Raphaël Varane, though: a high foot from Clement Lenglet and a tug from Ivan Rakitic.

Without Sergio Busquets, withdrawn with fever just before the game, Barcelona struggled to find a way out from deep and on the rare occasions they did, they found Casemiro waiting. Everything Barcelona did seemed to end at his feet. Either side, Toni Kroos controlled and Federico Valverde ran, endlessly dashing through midfield and arriving at the edge of the area then dashing back again. Madrid have quite a player in the tireless young Uruguayan and he fired off two volleys, one veering wide, the other saved by Marc-André ter Stegen.

Casemiro, too, was getting involved. He bent a shot wide and had a header that Gerard Piqué cleared off the line. Lenglet had to block another effort from the Brazilian who is far more than just a stopper.

And yet, as uncomfortable as they were, as absent as their midfield had been, Barcelona had opportunities. Maybe even clearer ones. Sergio Ramos cleared off the line from Lionel Messi. There was also a stunning Messi pass which dropped at Jordi Alba’s feet, seven yards out. He, though, scuffed the shot – as if he couldn’t believe it had actually reached him. A minute before the break, Luis Suárez’s ball just evaded Messi close to goal. And early in the second half, first Messi and then Suárez swiped and failed to make full contact with the ball. Those chances came less than a minute apart and from a combined distance of barely 15 yards.

By then, Valverde had another shot deflected wide, drawing frustrated, fearful whistles from Barcelona fans. Then came a brief interruption as dozens of yellow beach balls were thrown on to the pitch to chants of “Visca Catalunya!”

The game went on, Antoine Griezmann more involved, substitute Arturo Vidal accelerating things, but Barça were imprecise in possession and vulnerable when they lost it. On one occasion when they did, Bale thumped the ball into the side netting. Soon after, Bale scored only to see the flag up. The wait was long, but it confirmed that Ferland Mendy had been fractionally offside before crossing.

Suárez bent wide before both teams made changes, but nothing much changed and nothing much happened. One late run from Suárez died at the feet of Casemiro. Of course. That, after all, was the story of a clásico that, for once, was no classic.

More information: THE GUARDIAN.