At Camp Nou, Zinedine Zidane's side showed again that they are a team for the big occasion, able to lift their performances when it matters most despite their struggles against smaller sides this term. Twice they came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at the home of the champions – and it was fully deserved.
Indeed, their reward could even have been greater. For a spell in the first half after Cristiano Ronaldo's equaliser, Madrid pegged Barca back with the Portuguese – as he is so often – as the principal protagonist.
His goal was wonderfully worked. Ronaldo received the ball from Toni Kroos, waited for the midfielder to overlap and found him with a back-heel. The German then crossed to the far post for Karim Benzema, who headed back across goal for Cristiano to convert from close range.
Amid the scramble, Ronaldo was caught on the ankle by Gerard Pique and barely celebrated. In pain, it looked like he could not continue, but he picked himself up and twice came close to adding another goal, first with a one-on-one saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen and then with an angled shot drilled just wide.
Zidane had surprised by picking Benzema and Gareth Bale in attack, yet the French forward showed just why he is still so admired by his coach and team-mates. Buoyed by his two goals against Bayern in midweek, his intelligent runs and movement created space for Ronaldo to exploit. And when that happens, Real are at their most dangerous.
Ronaldo had seven attempts in total, but when the two teams emerged after the interval, the Portuguese was absent. And much of Madrid's momentum was lost in a second half in which Los Blancos appeared to lack a focal point – that despite playing against a Barca side down to 10 men following Sergi Roberto's red card just before the break.
There was a clear foul by Luis Suarez on Raphael Varane as Barca went back in front, while the Uruguayan also saw a goal ruled out when Ivan Rakitic was incorrectly called offside. And referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez, who should have sent off Gareth Bale for a cynical challenge on Samuel Umtiti in the first half, also missed a clear penalty when Jordi Alba fouled Marcelo.
Bale curled in a lovely left-footed shot near the end to justify his inclusion in the line-up and seal an entertaining 2-2 draw. And Madrid pressed for a winner in the final few minutes against an exhausted 10-man Barca side.
Both teams were angry at the officials. In the end, however, the result was probably fair and Madrid felt they could have ended Barcelona's unbeaten record in La Liga. "We could have won the game," Zidane said afterwards. "We had a lot of chances."
After Ronaldo departed, though, his side were understandably less effective and now Los Blancos will be sweating on his fitness in the build-up to the Champions League final against Liverpool in Kiev on May 26.
Prior to that, Madrid have three Liga games left: away to Sevilla on Wednesday night, at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday and then at Villarreal the following weekend. And with little to play for apart from a second-place finish, there is no need to risk Ronaldo.
"I don't know how long he'll be out," Zidane said. "He said it wasn't much, but we'll see tomorrow, we'll do some tests to see the extent of the damage done to his ankle. He was a little worried because it was a bit swollen, but he said that it's nothing serious."
If that is true, then it is good news for Real. Because this performance was one that should give Madrid confidence ahead of their pursuit of a third successive European Cup. But they will need Ronaldo back fit to lead the line in Kiev.