Atlético Madrid's increasingly agonising wait goes on and so does Real Madrid's title challenge. Cristiano Ronaldo scored three times, two of them quite astonishing goals, to give Real a 4-1 win that saw them re-establish a four-point lead at the top of the table and ease the "anxiety" for José Mourinho's side, if indeed that is what it was.
As for Atlético, there is not so much anxiety as psychosis. They have not beaten their city rivals this century. They could be forgiven for wondering if they ever will.
Momentary joy was, yet again, snatched away from them and there is a troubling reality too: the gap gets bigger, not smaller. These two sides are 40 points apart. Ronaldo scored his 39th, 40th and 41st league goals of a barely believable season. That is only two fewer than the entire Atlético side.
There was a familiar start to the first of them after 22 minutes. There was a familiar end, too. Ronaldo placed the ball, stood square on to it, legs wide apart and exhaled deeply, then began his run-up. He was 36 yards out but his hard, flat shot fizzed past a poorly positioned wall, seeming to swish slightly, almost imperceptibly right then left then right again, like the tailfin of a dolphin. It moved; Thibault Courtois, previously so secure this season, did not. The ball flew into the unguarded corner.
Ronaldo had not scored from a free-kick in more than 40 attempts this season but three of his last four had now come that way. It was a stunning goal. An important one, too: three draws in the last five games had cut Madrid's lead from 10 points to four and with Barcelona's victory on Tuesday night it was just one at the start of this match. Even the club director and former player Emilio Butragueño had remarked on the emergence of a little anxiety.
Another statistic weighed heavily and it weighed on Atlético, not Real … 13. An unlucky number, a symbol of their fatalism. Thirteen long years: Atlético have not beaten Real since 1999, when the peseta was still legal currency. And that season they went down. A game of few chances and intensity had suggested a home goal as much as an away one until Ronaldo scored the first; by the end, there had been four of them.
Optimism had briefly returned, too. Just before the hour, Adrián progressed down the left, put the brakes on and crossed for Radamel Falcao to head in the equaliser: a draw that felt like a victory for the 55,000 fans inside the Vicente Calderón. This arena was a wall of sound, scarves rotated on wrists. Not only had Atlético come from a goal down to equalise, they had damaged their rivals' title chances.
It did not last. Two shots evaded Courtois's right-hand post, Pepe headed over and so did Ronaldo. Then Ronaldo took everyone's breath away, again. He thumped a shot from the top-left corner of the penalty area over Courtois, sending it rocketing into the far corner. An already pretty good night got even better when Angel di María won a penalty. Ronaldo took it and scored. José Maria Callejón was set free on the right and struck a clean low shot into the net.
But it was Ronaldo's night and he climbed one goal above Leo Messi.