Anyway, at the end of all that, Atletico Madrid are top of the league. Like Real, they have 70 points, but their head-to-head record is better. Barcelona are a point behind them after a massive, huge, vast, crucial, gargantuan, important win over Real. They have won both The El Clasicos this season and if they finish level on points with Real, they would be above them. Refereeing controversies aside, this was a superb match, although the best football was played in a manic first half, in which defending was a mere afterthought. Thanks for reading and emailing. Bye.
Barcelona's second penalty: nah, not for me.
Barcelona's first penalty: it is so hard to see where Ramos touched Neymar. Ramos wasn't even really making a challenge. But Neymar may have left his heels trailing so that he could be caught.
Looking at the replay on the Real penalty, it was outside the area but a foul by Alves on Ronaldo.
Full-time: Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona
It's all over! Barcelona have won! Pepe is going to punch a wall in 3, 2, 1...
90 min+3: Scratch that, they're pushing for a killer fifth goal. Forget running it to the corner flag.
90 min+2: Barca are running down time. "Is it just me or the best thing about this match is that with this result Atleti go top?" says Vitor Ta. "With 9 games to go?" You are correct. Imagine if they did it.
90 min: Morata replaces Modric. HIT THE BIG MAN. There will be three more minutes.
89 min: Ronaldo goes down under a challenge from Mascherano. Nothing doing. "That was a stonewall penalty," says Harvey Kelly. "Iniesta was clattered by Alonso. Come on!" I don't know what to think any more. I might just cry instead. He was caught by Alonso but he was trying to squeeze through a space I'm not sure was there.
88 min: As it stands, Barcelona will be a point behind Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who will be top at the end of the evening. Modric has been booked for clattering Messi.
87 min: "Any chance we could read about the game and not what your readers believe constitutes a penalty?" says Michael Minihan, who is objecting to emails being published by, er, sending me an email.
85 min: Isco replaces Di Maria. Meanwhile Ronaldo has been booked for not very much at all. Expect to hear a lot about that second Barcelona penalty from Real.
GOAL! Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona (Messi pen, 84 min)
A hat-trick for Lionel Messi at the Bernabeu! Barcelona lead! He looked a little bit nervous but that was just for show, because what a penalty this is, walloped high into the top-left corner! Real are still fuming and chuntering over the award and Alonso has been booked for dissent.
ANOTHER PENALTY TO BARCELONA!
83 min: Andres Iniesta goes down and Barcelona have another penalty! He was sandwiched by Carvajal and Alonso but Iniesta made the most of it. I'm not sure about that at all.
82 min: Alves's shot against the post aside, Barcelona aren't really threatening a goal. Real are defending well, so well that Mascherano is reduced to shooting from 35 yards out. It's not a terrible effort but it goes over.
80 min: "Contact is not a foul," says John David. No, but Alves's contact, leaving a foot out and letting Ronaldo go over it, was.
78 min: Barcelona replace Cesc Fabregas with Alexis Sanchez, who scored the winner in October's Clasico. "If there is to be violent confrontation in the game (of footer) can there not be some guidelines set out that makel these oh so subtle headbutts even more illegal and instead do as the ice hockey people do and allow players to clear a space and start swinging at each other?" says Ian Copestake. "No? Shame."
76 min: "Would either of these penalties be given had they been officiated by refs from the Premier League?" says Gabriel Piller. "This isn't a rhetorical question, by the way, this is a genuine question I'd like an answer to, as I've not seen either of the incidents." Yes, if they thought there was contact - and in the case of Ramos's red card, Kieran Gibbs would have been given his marching orders if yesterday's farce is anything to go by.
74 min: The effect of the red card is that every Real player is behind the ball, sitting off and challenging Barcelona to find a way through. Eventually Alves decides he's had enough of all this passing nonsense and that it's time to have a shot from distance. And what a shot! His effort swerves and moves past Lopez but crashes back off the face of the right post!
72 min: A corner to Barcelona on the left. Xavi sends it to the near post but Busquets heads well over. "Ho-hum another big match in which Barca are up a man," says Howard Davies. "How many does that make over the years?" Are you saying that wasn't a red card? Come on now.
71 min: This is going to feel like a lifetime for Real now.
70 min: "I feel compelled to email as I'm so dismayed that you're only talking about the location of the contact for the Ronaldo pen," says David Steiner. "The contact was so minimal that he's clearly trying to deceive the ref, yeah I know momentum blah blah but there's no way at all that the contact brought him down, seriously just look at the way he fell..."
There was contact. It was a foul.
68 min: Pedro replaces Neymar. He stayed on just long enough to win the penalty and get Ramos sent off.
67 min: "This is ridiculous," says Simon McMahon. "Jumpers for goalposts stuff. Give me Villa - Stoke anyday." Stoke's defence wouldn't have let in this many.
66 min: Real respond to the red card by bringing off their two-goal hero, Karim Benzema, for Raphael Varane. Looking at the red card again, it seems that Ramos's leg made the slightest of contact with Neymar and that was enough to send him down. Meanwhile Busquets has been booked.
GOAL! Real Madrid 3-3 Barcelona (Messi pen, 64 min)
Does Messi miss? Are bears, etc, etc? Lopez goes the right way, diving to his left, but it makes no difference. Real have it all to do now.
PENALTY! RED CARD!
63 min: THIS MATCH IS INCREDIBLE! Messi plays a preposterous, eye-of-the-needle pass through to Neymar - who may have been offside. Neymar's touch cleverly takes him in front of Ramos. Neymar falls. Ramos is sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity. But I'm not actually sure he touched him. Either way, Barcelona have a penalty and a one-man advantage.
61 min: Neymar has a go from 25 yards. Nothing doing. Pedro will be on soon. I'd take off Fabregas, who's not doing much, but I suspect it will be Neymar.
60 min: A corner to Barcelona on the right. It's headed away but only as far as Iniesta, whose fierce volley flicks off Bale and whistles over the angle of post and bar. The resulting corner comes to nothing. "It was outside the box I agree but to be fair to the ref in real time it seem a penalty, at least it did for me anyway," says George Trevers.
58 min: Real are threatening to run away with this. Ronaldo swivels a low cross to Benzema, who has his back to goal on the edge of the area. Nowhere to go? Not bloody likely. Benzema opens up the Barcelona defence with a gorgeous backheel to Bale, whose shot from an angle is blocked behind by the onrushing Valdes, the Barcelona goalkeeper keeping his team in the game.
56 min: In fairness, the decision was so marginal for a penalty that it is hard to be harsh on the referee. Ronaldo made his life difficult by falling inside the area. The first mistake is the foul.
GOAL! Real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona (Ronaldo pen, 55 min)
Does Ronaldo miss? Are bears catholic? Exactly. Valdes goes the right way, diving to his right, but Ronaldo's low shot is too firm and accurate. Messi has a goal and so does Ronaldo. And Ronaldo's goal will be the winner unless Barcelona can equalise again.
PENALTY TO REAL MADRID!
54 min: It's all happening again! Ronaldo drops his shoulder and fools Alves, who hangs out a leg and brings him down. But, and you'll like this, the foul looked to be inches outside the area. Oh dear.
52 min: Or are they? Bale leaves a host of Barca bodies on the floor and in his wake with an explosive, snaking run from the right, before he strokes a pass through to Benzema. He was just offside but the flag stayed down. Luckily for Barcelona and the officials, Benzema shot too close to Valdes, who pushed it away. Again the chance for a hat-trick goes begging.
50 min: There is already a different shape to the match in the first half. Carlo Ancelotti, perhaps annoyed with the way his team's defence was exposed, has moved Real deeper and they're allowing Barcelona to dominate possession, albeit in relatively harmless areas. They're letting them play in front of them and look like they will rely on their pace on the break.
49 min: Bale is fouled by Busquets but the referee plays on and Barcelona attack on the right, ignoring the whistles of the crowd. Alves, playing much higher up in the first half, crosses. Ramos concedes a corner with a diving header but it comes to nothing.
47 min: Nothing's happened yet, just a lot of Barcelona passing. Which feels a bit more familiar.
46 min: Here we go again. Who knows what to expect from this half? Knowing football like I do, it will probably be rubbish! Ha! Ha! Wouldn't that be a thing!
Messi's goal made him the all-time top scorer in Clasico history by the way. He is on 19 goals. He's 26.
I have no idea how this is going to end. It's basically going to be decided by which defence is slightly less rubbish.
Half-time: Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona
That. Was. Amazing. I require a lie-down.
45 min: It is not an exaggeration to say that Karim Benzema could had six goals in this first half. Carvajal escapes on the right and crosses to the far post, where Benzema heads back across goal and an inch past the base of the left post. Valdes stood and watched.
43 min: Some ridiculous after the goal and you won't be surprised to discover that loser Pepe was involved. As Barcelona's players celebrated, Pepe was suddenly embroiled in a debate with Fabregas. Their heads came together and soon they collapsed to the floor. It's not entirely clear if anything was in it but, knowing Pepe, there wasn't. You have to admire the symmetry of their falls, though - it was timed to absolute perfection. After some pushing and shoving and shouting, Fabregas and Pepe are both shown yellow cards once they're up.
GOAL! Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona (Messi, 42 min)
Barcelona might have a comedy defence but they also have Lionel Messi and when you have Lionel Messi you always have a chance. He barged past a challenge on the edge of the area and flashed a reverse-pass through to Neymar. He was tackled by Carvajal, but he only knocked the ball straight to Messi, who skipped round a tackle and then rammed a low finish past Lopez with his left foot.
41 min: Di Maria is everywhere. How many of him are there on the pitch? Has he cloned himself? He's left-winger, left-back and central midfielder all in one tonight.
40 min: The match has just slowed down a tad in the last few minutes, which is understandable given what has gone on before. I'm not sure I've seen a better first half than this one this season.
38 min: "It's difficult to explain Barca's failure to sign any actual defenders, aside from the arrogance you mention, and possibly a bizarre expectation that Messi would continue to score 2-3 a game for the rest of his career," says David Hopkins. "What's clear is that the players in this era had several more trophies in them, but for the total lack of interest in the defence." It's woeful mismanagement.
37 min: Neymar scoots inside from the right and tries to find Fabregas in the area. His pass is just too heavy, though, and Fabregas is unable to keep it in play.
35 min: Di Maria is booked for sending Neymar flying.
34 min: John Terry is at the Bernabeu tonight. No word on whether he's got his shinpads on.
33 min: Barcelona, who were cutting through Real at will in the first 20 minutes, have not reacted at all since Benzema's equaliser.
31 min: Someone explain to me why Barcelona haven't bothered signing any competent defenders? The arrogance to think they can get away with Mascherano there is astounding and also a betrayal of their attackers.
30 min: It's not Messi, it's Xavi and it's into the wall.
29 min: Now Barcelona get a free-kick for handball, which is ironic. It's around 30 yards from goal, but Messi is busy scheming. He's already sent one free-kick into the wall.
27 min: Real are rampant. They have a free-kick on the edge of the area. Ronaldo time. He thumps it into the wall and immediately claims there was a handball. The referee has a look but disagrees. He may have been wrong. Modric volleys the rebound over.
26 min: Angel Di Maria! Angel Di Maria! This man is ridiculous! How is he doing this? He'd more or less fainted five minutes ago! Now he's skipping clear on the left, somehow holding off Alves and hanging up another cross to the far post, where Benzema is waiting. He takes a touch and then fires towards the bottom corner, where Pique clears off the line! Benzema almost had a Clasico hat-trick in the space of six minutes - but Barcelona's defence is a risible disgrace, folding whenever it is put under pressure.
GOAL! Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona (Benzema, 24 min)
Karim Benzema: from zero to hero. And guess who created the goal? Angel Di Maria. Again. Nothing can keep that man down, not tonight. He located space on the left and from the byline, he chipped the ball back into the area. The hilarious Mascherano missed his header and Benzema controlled the ball in one instant and then belted a vicious volley past Valdes! What a turnaround! What a sport!
23 min: Di Maria is back on, thankfully. And...
22 min: This is worrying. Angel Di Maria just collapsed after the goal. I've no idea what went on there. He's been led off the pitch and looks pale. He's got a towel wrapped around him. He just crumpled.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona (Benzema, 20 min)
Karim Benzema was in the doghouse after those two early misses - but no more! He's equalised with a brilliant header, making it 1-1 in a brilliant game. Angel Di Maria crossed from the left and there was Benzema, towering imperiously above Javier Mascherano, to head powerfully towards the left corner. Valdes leapt to his left in desperation and although he got a strong hand to it, he could only palm it into the corner. Valdes holds his head in his hands, perhaps feeling he should have saved it. As for Barcelona, that's what you get for putting Mascherano at centre-back.
19 min: Real's defence is a sick joke. They are all over the place and there is so much space for Messi and Neymar - this is the problem with playing no midfield enforcer against Barcelona. This time Messi slips a pass through to Neymar, who drifts away from the dozing Marcelo and into the area from the right. He just gets the ball stuck under his feet, though, and his mishit shot is blocked by Pepe. And how big that miss could be, because...
18 min: Ronaldo lets fly for the first time, from 25 yards. It bounces in front of Valdes but he holds comfortably. "I expect a Madrid win and it feels like the fin de siècle for Barcelona but what a first team they still have," says Niall Mullen. "Do you think there may be enough gas in the tank for one last run at either La Liga or Big Cup?" Of course. Look at how this match is playing out so far. Bayern are the team to beat in the Champions League but they're not unbeatable.
15 min: This match could be 2-2 or 3-2 or 2-3 or 1-1 already. It is absurd. Neither side gives the remotest iota about defending tonight and it's making for superb entertainment. Now Barcelona are troubling Real and, as I look up at my screen, Messi is speeding through on goal after being released by ... let's assume it was Xavi, it usually is. Messi sizes up Lopez, looks for the far corner with his left foot ... and, amazingly, he drags the ball a good few yards wide! He's rubbish, him.
14 min: And breathe. Which is hard, because this is breathless stuff.
12 min: Bale, relatively quiet so far, suddenly comes to life, charging straight through the middle of the Barcelona midfield. They can't get close to him ... until he's brought down from behind as he lays it off to Benzema on the left. The referee plays advantage, allowing Benzema to cut back on to his right foot and scuff straight at Valdes from 25 yards. Moments later, Real have Barcelona gasping again. This time it's Di Maria who's up to no good, tearing Barcelona apart with a magnificent run into their area from the left. He manages to touch a pass back to Benzema, who's totally unmarked around eight yards from goal. The equaliser looks inevitable but Benzema leans back and oafishly lifts his shot over the bar! That's his second woeful miss, though this one was far worse than the first.
11 min: Iniesta specialises in the big goal, by the way. The World Cup final comes to mind, of course, as does the winner at Stamford Bridge in 2009. Meanwhile Ronaldo is already in a major funk. Three times he's been denied free-kicks after tussles with Alves. The second of those was in the area as they challenged for a cross but it wasn't even close to being a penalty, no matter how much Ronaldo flung his arms up in the air like a small child.
8 min: All of a sudden, Neymar is threatening to burst clear. He's one-on-one with Pepe, but he's strong-armed out of the way by the Portuguese defender. Real want to sort their heads out here. "Not massively relevant to tonight's vital game, but am I the only person who thinks that Ancelloti looks like Homer Simpson in the face?" says Duncan Smith. In the face? Where else?
WHAT A GOAL! Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona (Iniesta, 7 min)
Andres Iniesta, so often the man for the big occasion, gives Barcelona the lead with a thunderous drive! What a start to this match! That's why they call it the Clasico. Barcelona passed their way through the Real midfield and soon Messi has space 30 yards from goal, with the home defence all over the shop. Messi weighs up his options and then slides a pass to the left, where Iniesta is in acres of space, Carvajal leaving him be. Inside the Real area, he takes a touch and then absolutely blooters a left-footed shot high past the helpless Lopez, the ball crashing in off the underside of the bar! What a goal! No messing around there.
5 min: And here's Real's first sight of goal! Barcelona try to tippy-tap their way out of defence but Real are swarming all over them - they're employing the high press, though it's hard to keep that up all match. A loose first touch from Iniesta, something you won't write very much, allows Bale to nip in on the right. He prods the ball to Benzema in space in the area but he screws wide of the near post. Bad miss.
4 min: It's end-to-end already. A Barca attack breaks down and that's the cue for Ronaldo to motor up the left flank, only for Alves to hold him up. Soon Ronaldo is being dumped over on the edge of the area. No foul! No foul! Barca romp up the pitch and Messi slides a lovely pass through to Neymar. He's clear on the right but he's forced just wide and, with no support forthcoming, he fires straight at Lopez from a tight angle. What a start that would have been for the young Brazilian!
3 min: Piercing whistles as Barcelona stroke the thing around. The ball, that is. "Ronaldo and Bale or Messi and Neymar, which pair would you pick, Jacob?" says John Galt. Can I say Ronaldo and Messi? Otherwise Ronaldo and Bale, simply because the latter has done more than Neymar this season.
2 min: Barcelona have the ball. Real Madrid might not see it for a while. Gareth Bale has his hair swept back, in case you were wondering. As it goes, it's a fairly scrappy start, neither side able to settle in possession quite yet. But there's time, roughly 88 minutes of it.
Before kick-off, a minute's reflection for former Spanish president Adolpho Suarez. It's not quite a minute's silence, with violin music playing over clips of his life on the big screen, but it's impeccably observed nonetheless. And with that out of the way, the ball is rolling! Real Madrid get the match underway, kicking from right to left in the first half, and they're on the attack immediately. Ronaldo bursts down the left and crosses low, but to Pique, who boots it away. You don't need me to tell you what the two teams are wearing.
Here come the teams, walking out into a piping hot atmosphere! The players line up, applaud the stadium and get ready to play ball. And, quite possibly, kick seven shades of the brown stuff out of each other.
"Buenas noches Jacob," says Simon McMahon. "El Clasico. Ronaldo. Bale. Messi. Iniesta. Black ties. Still, it will have to go some to beat Villa - Stoke from earlier on, eh?" Now that's what I call a Super Sunday.
"I imagine the black tie is because ex-Spanish president Adolpho Suárez died today," says Alastair Johnson. "He was greatly respected by people of all political colours, playing a pivotal role in the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain after the death of Franco, and being the first democratically elected president in 1978. I assume there will be a minute's silence in his memory at the start of the match."
Some pre-match emails.
"The referee will definitely need a taser or something nastier to enforce a level of sanity in this match with Alves, Mascherano, Ramos and Pepe on the same pitch," says Popoola Ore. "It's going to be bloody and I don't envy the ref at all."
"Pfft, any true FM addict knows that buying a digital copy is the way to go, meaning the laws of physical degradation won't interrupt the one thing you were put on this earth to do: beating Barcelona with Shrewsbury Town in the 2059 European Cup Final," says Jack Coleman.
The situation at the top could hardly be tighter. Atletico Madrid's 2-0 win at Real Betis earlier today, goals from Gabi and Diego Costa, means that they are top because of their superior head-to-head record against Real. Both Madrid clubs are on 70 points. A win for Real obviously moves them three points clear - that's maths, people, that's maths. But victory for Barcelona would put them right back in the picture! They'd be a point off the pace and that is why we should all want Barcelona to win tonight. Wouldn't it be delicious if the Spanish title was a three-way battle on the final day?
My colleague from The Times (boo! hiss!), Rory Smith, is at the game and he reports that a gentleman of the press is wearing black tie. It is that kind of occasion. Rory, I imagine, and I often do, will be wearing a linen suit, handkerchief in the top pocket, very much the Englishman abroad. Meanwhile, in the interest of impartiality, I can confirm that I am wearing a half-and-half Real Barcelona shirt in the Guardian's Kings Cross bunker.
The array of talent - and what an array it is!
Real Madrid bring back a host of players who were rested against Schalke: Diego Lopez; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Alonso, Modric, Di Maria; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo. Subs: Casillas, Varane, Coentrão, Nacho, Morata, Isco, Illarra.
Barcelona select Javier Mascherano in the Michael Carrick role and Neymar starts: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Fabregas, Messi, Neymar. Subs: Pinto, Bartra, Adriano, Song, Sergi Roberto, Pedro, Alexis.
The poor bugger trying to keep a lid on proceedings: Alberto Undiano.
Good evening. Nothing stays the same for ever. You think it will, but it doesn't. You think life will always be about days spent
playing football in the park with your mates, followed by evenings at the pub having fun and talking to members of the opposite sex locked in a dark room playing Football Manager on your own, making sure to wear your special suit when your team gets to a Cup Final, or booking an open-top bus when you win the league. Of course, I wouldn't know anything about that, I'm just speaking on behalf of a friend, but what is beyond debate is that time moves on and things change, for better and for worse. People grow old, their copy of Football Manager gets scratched and while some accept that, others can still be seen squeezing into their skinny jeans when they're well into their 40s. Sometimes those skinny jeans will be red.
Point is, what seems permanent at the time, both good and bad, won't always be the case. Take, oh I don't know, Barcelona. Think back to 2011, three years ago, and the idea of a side other than them winning either La Liga or the Champions League was preposterous. Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona had achieved – and this is not an exaggeration – footballing perfection. It is hard to think of a more complete performance in a top-level game than their 5-0 defenestration of Real Madrid in November 2010, a victory that cut right to the core of their greatest rivals. But things change. Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes will leave at the end of the season and Xavi, curiously linked with a move to America, and Andres Iniesta are that little bit older and slower, which means that a defence which Barcelona have outrageously neglected for years has become more exposed. Even Lionel Messi, who has had a few niggling injuries, was only second in the Ballon d'Or. There have also been problems off the field: Sandro Rosell, who put Qatar Airways on the Barcelona shirt, resigned as president after the controversy over Neymar's transfer and Tata Martino is expected to be replaced as manager in the summer.
While this has been going on, Barcelona have fallen four points behind Real in the title race and defeat at the Bernabeu would surely boot them out of the running altogether. But it's hard to know what we're going to get from them. Will it be the shambling nonsense that has seen them lose against Real Sociedad, Valladolid and Valencia since the turn of the year? Or the commanding team that beat Manchester City to reach the last eight of the Champions League and the one that thrashed Osasuna 7-0 last Sunday, Messi scoring a hat-trick? It could be either! We'll just have to wait and see.
Either way, you can bet your bottom dollar, or whatever currency happens to be the equivalent of your bottom dollar, that Real are going to have a serious say. As Sid Lowe explains here, They have been in irresistible form for weeks now and are unbeaten since losing 2-1 at Barcelona in October, with Gareth Bale struggling for fitness and form in his first Clasico. But Bale has settled since then, contributing 14 goals and 15 assists so far this season, while Real have gone from strength to strength under Carlo Ancelotti's calm leadership. They can still be a heinous side when arch-villains Pepe and Sergio Ramos are in malevolent mood but, mostly, Real have been infinitely more tolerable under Ancelotti than they ever were under Jose Mourinho when, at times, they were a flagrant disgrace, especially in these matches.
One last thing: Cristiano Ronaldo. That force of nature is bound to score at some point. I suppose not everything has to change.
Kick-off: 8pm in Good Old Blighty, 9pm in Espana.