The nightmare recurs for José Mourinho's Real Madrid. There was a familiar feeling here: defeat, impotence. The match finished 2-1 to Barcelona but it was about more than the result, secured with goals from the defenders Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal; it was about the feeling this game left, the palpable difference between these two sides.
Mourinho tried something different and it still did not work. Yet another formula, yet another failure. When the whistle went at full-time it was met with timid whistles from the Madrid fans. They could muster little more. Nor, ultimately, could their side. Again.
Mourinho was brought to Madrid to repeat what he had achieved at Internazionale: defeat Barcelona. He has now faced Pep Guardiola's Barcelona nine times with Madrid and won just once – in extra time. The aggregate score stands at Barcelona 19 Madrid 9. In five Bernabéu games against Mourinho, Barcelona remain unbeaten. "To come and win so often is not normal," said Guardiola. Only it is. Madrid have not beaten Barcelona at home since 2008. Mourinho must start to take some of the blame. Here, he did. "Victory has many fathers, defeat has just one – and that's me," he said.
It does not seem to matter what Madrid try or what they spend, the result remains the same. Mourinho opted for an unexpected starting XI, with Hamit Altintop and Ricardo Carvalho, plus Pepe in midfield. His only contribution of note was to tread on Lionel Messi's hand. Both coaches said they had not seen the incident but Mourinho did admit that if Pepe had done it deliberately, it would be worthy of criticism. Pepe picked up his eighth yellow in 11 Clásicos. He should have seen a red.
Briefly, this latest formula worked. Eleven minutes in, Cristiano Ronaldo struck a low, hard left-footed shot that flew past José Pinto, close to his body. The concerns surrounding the Barcelona keeper, first choice in the Cup, seemed justified. Madrid seemed well placed but quickly the sensation subsided. Before half-time, Iker Casillas pushed away an Andrés Iniesta shot at his near post, Alexis Sánchez's header floated over him and off the other post and Messi too was blocked at the near post. Then, Cesc Fábregas, Sánchez, and Iniesta combined swiftly only for the latter to waste the chance.
Madrid's fans were getting twitchy: the back passes were getting longer, the clearances coming straight back, the team dropping deeper. And although Barcelona were not finding a clear way through in the opening 45 minutes, at the start of the second half they did, when a corner from the right floated towards the edge of the six-yard box and Puyol, all alone, dived in to head the equaliser. "We had not even sat down on the bench when that went in," Mourinho said. "You cannot concede a goal like that from a dead ball when you are 1-0 up. Psychologically, that was bad for us and good for Barcelona." The problem with that discourse is that if the result shifted, the pattern of the game did not really.
"We wanted long periods of possession and control and we got that. I think we played very, very, very well," said Guardiola. Mostly Madrid continued to wait; mostly they found no way out. The problem is that if you keep waiting for Barcelona, their control grows and the logical outcome is that they will eventually arrive – even if they are in no hurry. And with 13 minutes to go, they did.
Messi clipped a wonderful pass to Eric Abidal, making a perfectly timed run behind Altintop. The Frenchman brought it down and struck cleanly beyond Iker Casillas. That feeling again.