It might just have been the fastest they had run all day. Miguel-Ángel Pérez Lasa set off up the pitch and they gave chase, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué and Andrés Iniesta sprinting towards him, arms outstretched. Piqué diverted his run to collect the ball, seeking to start one last attack, but there was no time. Within a few seconds, Pérez Lasa blew the final whistle and that was the starting gun for Víctor Valdés to begin a dash of his own, racing in the referees' direction, shouting: "You crapped yourself! Shameless!" Almost as swiftly, out came the yellow card. And before it could even make its way back into his shirt pocket, it was waved again.
Carlos Naval, Barcelona's delegate, grabbed hold of Valdés as he turned all Scrappy Doo – lemme at 'im, lemme at 'im – and pulled him towards the edge of the pitch, where he kept wriggling and shouting all the way up the tunnel. Leave it, it's not worth it; not any more. It's gone. In the last minute of the latest clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Pérez Lasa had ignored a penalty for a foul on Adriano by Sergio Ramos, denying Barcelona the chance to draw level at 2-2. But there was nothing that he could do to change that now. Two clásicos in five days, two victories for Real Madrid.
On the TV shows, they showed it over and over again: 10 times, 20, 30, 40, slowed down and sped up. If you were waiting for the goals, you could wait a little longer. At least until after they had finished shouting. Refereeing experts stopped the tape and started it again. In Marca, the former linesman Rafa Guerrero, universally known as Rafa, No Me Jodas, declared it definitely a penalty; on Marca TV, the former referee Juan Andújar declared it not a penalty. Most agreed with Rafa, not the ref.
"When the referee comes into play, we have a lot to lose," said Piqué. Earlier, he had raised his arms in a handcuff gesture, laughing in disbelief. "Clamorous Penalty," shouted the cover of El Mundo Deportivo. The headline stretched across pages two and three declared: "The draw, robbed" and the one stretched across pages six and seven read "CLAMOROSO!", which was handy for those who hadn't read the front page.
It took until page eight for them to get to the point: Barcelona weren't very good. Were not? Right now, they are not. It is tempting to conclude that Barcelona and Real Madrid have traded places. Eight days that were supposed to define Madrid's season might end up defining Barcelona's; Madrid were the team tottering on the edge of the abyss but it is Barcelona who feel like they have fallen in. Barcelona, according to El País, are a team with "no soul, no football and no Messi". "Barcelona are in A&E," writes Pepe Sámano, "today they are in ruins: they have collapsed in footballing terms, physically and emotionally."
"Crisis" is too strong a word to use for a team that have a 13-point lead over Real Madrid and an 11-point lead over Atlético. It is too strong a word to use after a game like Saturday's clásico, one where the message, at least until Cristiano Ronaldo came on, seemed to be: right, let's get the world's biggest match out of the world and move on to something that actually matters, shall we?
In the first half there was a passage of play reminiscent of The Simpsons' interpretation of "soccer": in it, Messi and Iniesta stand seven or eight yards apart playing the ball to each other, mostly first time, going nowhere and trying to go nowhere, while Madrid just let them get on with it. Messi, Iniesta, Messi, Iniesta, Messi, Iniesta, Messi, Iniesta, Messi and, when a bit of pressure is exerted, back to Busquets. But while that can be seen as symbolic of the "sterile possession" that has been held against Barcelona – likened to tantric sex by Juanma Trueba – "Enjoy yourself but don't make a mess" – it was also a product of a game, 1-1 at the time, in which both teams appeared to have better things to do. And, in truth, is not so different to the 1-1 draw between these teams in April 2011, when it was Madrid rather than Barcelona than seemingly "needed" the emotional boost but both teams were satisfied to postpone judgment for another day.
And yet it was not just about this game and something has certainly shifted. If they already felt that way on Wednesday morning, the sensation was stronger still four days later. "Madrid reign again," said the front page of AS. Santi Segurola even asked the question: could they actually lose the league still?
Barcelona lost their third game in four. And here's the thing: for all the referee rage, they deserved to. In those three defeats, they scored just one. On Saturday they had just two shots on target. They have now conceded in each of their last 13 matches. And this latest clásico defeat came in a game in which they were the only side that had any pressing need to win and against Real Madrid's substitutes: there may well be seven players who start against Manchester United who didn't start on Saturday afternoon. This was the first time Barcelona had been defeated twice in a row by Madrid since 2008; two defeats in five days is as many as they suffered in 15 clásicos under Pep Guardiola. And of the last eight clásicos, Madrid have lost just one. Defensively, this is the worst Barcelona since 1962. It is not even as if Madrid were particularly good on Saturday. In fact, mostly it was an awful game.
Mourinho's record in clásicos was poor; now it is exceptional. From Madrid's perspective, the balance of those eight reads: one league title won at Camp Nou, one two-legged Super Copa won, one two-legged semi-final of the Copa del Rey won, a place in the final clinched, and two league games that have seen a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou and a 2-1 win at the Bernabéu. And if last season there were question marks about the meaning of Madrid's league title success if they did not beat Barcelona, it is legitimate to pose the same question of Barcelona this season.
Sweeping judgments are standard fare after clásicos. But this was more than that: not just the end of an era but the return to a previous one, for Barcelona especially. And here those refereeing complaints were part of the package: they had swapped place when it came to the narrative too. Some saw the return of the victim complex that it seemed Barcelona had left behind, leaving the moaning mantle to Madrid instead. "A long time later, Madrid are back to winning and Barcelona are back to moaning about the referees," concluded AS's match report. "I didn't expect Barcelona to surround the referee; it wasn't a nice sight," said Pepe, whacking his pot with his kettle, "but then it's normal for a team to talk about the ref when they lose." Mad Madridista Tomás Roncero gloated: "This was like the old times when [Hristo] Stoichkov and [Joan] Gaspart ate the referee."
They would say that of course but more measured commentators made similar points. Sámano was blunt: "Like any old team, they hid behind the penalty, nothing more than a cheap excuse." As for his colleague Ramón Besa, credited by some as a modern version of Barcelona's great chronicler Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, he remembered Losantos Omar ruling out a Rivaldo goal in 2001 and noted the return of Barcelona's radical Boixos Nois to Camp Nou from where they had been banned by the previous president Joan Laporta and where, on Wednesday night, they threw a flare. His article is entitled: "The old excuse returns and the old Barça returns."
One thing has certainly returned: the division, the famous "entorno", the rarefied environment which surrounds the club. For Nunez versus Cruyff, the battle between president and guru, read Rosell versus Laporta. But the accusation was not entirely fair. Controversy now dominates across the board; the weekend's polémica has become an obsession, more important than the game itself: even when there isn't any, they look for it. And shouting sells. El Mundo Deportivo, very much in Rosell's camp, may have resorted to the old excuse but at a national level they are not alone – what would the reaction in the Madrid media be if this happened to them, asked the paper, knowing full-well the answer was: "Pretty much the same as yours" – and just as strikingly at Catalan level they more or less were.
Rather than "ranting" as some reports had it, Piqué's tone was relatively conciliatory post-game and despite having a couple of digs he noted: "We can't hide behind the refereeing." And this time Sport, normally the more shouty of the two Catalan dailies, was not joining in, nor hiding from the frightening truth, the disaster that Milan may yet bring. Sure, they called it a "robbery" but one that "does not justify the disaster".
"No ideas, no direction, no attitude …" runs its cover above a picture of Messi, head bowed. "And just 10 days to sort it out."
Results and talking points
• Sometimes you wonder if they're doing it on purpose. This was the weekend when, no matter how relative its importance, no matter how boring it turned out to be until Ronaldo came on, Madrid-Barcelona eclipsed all else. Which is a pity, after plenty of weeks in which, let's face it, there were barely any games worth watching, because this weekend there were some other tasty looking matches. The not-really-Basque-Basque-derby Osasuna-Athletic at one end, plus Malaga-Atlético (second versus fourth) and Real Sociedad-Betis (sixth versus seventh) at the other. Oh, and the Valencia derby at Mestalla – worth watching if only for Roberto Soldado's goal. Woof!
• If that was goal of the week, game of the week was at Anoeta, where Betis went 2-0 up, la Real brought it back to 2-2, then went 3-2 up with Xabi Prieto dinking in a Panenka penalty. But just when it looked like they had done it, just when it looked like the curse had been finally broken, Betis equalised again five minutes later. Five goals in 20 minutes. "Football lovers will have enjoyed this. Even if they don't support either team. The fairest result would have been for both teams to win," said the Betis manager.
• Barcelona's defeat offered Atlético a glimmer of hope that probably wasn't much of a hope at all: win and they would cut the gap at the top to 'just' nine points with Barcelona still to come to the Vicente Calderón. But it didn't happen. "They have a mental block at 10 points," insisted AS's editor Alfredo Relaño. Which is a nice theory but which is also rubbish. What they had was a decent side in front of them, one that did not offer them the chance to play on the break, and it came off the back of a Copa del Rey match in Seville in midweek. Besides, their away form hasn't been great of late. This was no mental block; if anything, Atlético showed that they did believe in the league. Ultimately, though, there were precious few shots – just two on target each. "A draw is not a bad result here," Courtois said, and he was right. But …
• And so it will be a Madrid derby in the Copa del Rey final. But, as usual, we still don't know where – Bernabéu? Calderón? Camp Nou? – and we still don't know when. The final was planned, in so much as anything is ever sodding planned with Spanish football, for 18 May but that may not be possible. Why? Because that night it's Eurovision.
• No, that's not a joke.
• Could the miracle be on with Manzano? Mallorca got a 94th-minute winner and are now just four points from safety. Better still, the team nearest to them is Real Zaragoza, who haven't won in 2013 and look truly, deeply, awful. They may need another miracle to survive. Yes, that kind of miracle.
Results: Getafe 2-0 Zaragoza; Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona; Deportivo 0-0 Rayo; Osasuna 0-1 Athletic; Valencia 2-2 Levante; Granada 1-2 Mallorca; Espanyol 0-0 Valladolid; Málaga 0-0 Atlético; Real Sociedad 3-3 Betis; Tonight: Sevilla-Celta.