Real Madrid may be leading the chase for the La Liga title but there is no question that their fierce rivals are still Spain's hottest property as Mourinho's superstars were outplayed and simply second-best to a Barcelona side that never fails to live up to the grand occasion.
Since their 3-1 home defeat to Los Blaugranes on December 10th, Real Madrid have responded in spectacular fashion, winning all of their seven league and cup matches, a run which has seen them stride ahead of Barcelona in the standings. With football critics and neutrals alike pondering whether or not the power had shifted towards Madrid, Guardiola's side produced a solid and assuring display to suggest otherwise, inspired by their rugged, long-haired captain, Carles Puyol.
As they did in the La Liga encounter at the end of last year, Real Madrid started the brightest and made an early breakthrough, Cristiano Ronaldo silencing his critics with a powerful drive in the 11th minute. Fabregas's pass was intercepted as Barcelona had thrown men forward in an attempt to score an early goal but Real Madrid launced a rapid counter-attack and Benzema slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Ronaldo, whose stepover took the ball away from Pique and onto his left foot where he smashed the ball through Pinto's legs and sent the home fans into raptures. It marked his third El Clasico goal in 11 meetings, a statistic that Madrileños would argue is not good enough for their top marksman.
Barcelona reacted positively and almost equalised from the restart but Iniesta's shot was fingertipped wide by Casillas. They came even closer in the 16th minute when Sanchez latched onto a fantastic lofted pass from Fabregas but the Chilean forward was unfortunate to see his looped header strike the inside of the post with Casillas stranded.
Barcelona continued to crank up the pressure, Messi nearly squeezing in a shot at Casillas's near post before Iniesta fired wide after wonderful build-up play from Xavi and Sanchez. The goal was coming and the home fans could sense it as they urged their team to push forward for a second goal. They were able to watch their side hang on till half-time however and gave their players a standing ovation when the sides entering the changing rooms at the break.
Their lead didn't last long however as Guardiola's troops continued to dominate and the Madrid defence finally buckled under the pressure in the 49th minute when Carles Puyol lost Pepe in the box and produced a bullet diving header into the bottom corner from Xavi's corner. The elation was etched on the Barcelona skipper's face when he saw his determination rewarded.
Minutes later Iniesta's volley was deflected onto Casillas's crossbar as Mourinho's side failed to cope with the pace and passing of Barcelona's midfield contingent. Their 70% possession in the Bernabeu was a testament to their fantastic ability to outmanouevre their opponents and keep them chasing for the ball.
Real finally mustered their second shot at Pinto's goal on 58 minutes when Karim Benzema headed Hamit Altintop's deep cross onto the post.
An El Clasico is not complete without its fair share of theatrics and malice however with Pepe and Sergio Busquets playing the villainous roles. Both players were culpable of embarrassing play-acting, in an attempt to deceive the referee and Pepe will surely face a disciplinary hearing after his stamp on the hand of Messi went unnoticed by the official.
The little Argentine would have the last laugh however as his delightful chipped pass set up the unlikeliest of scorers, Eric Abidal, who had roamed forward from left-back to score a late winner and turn the tie on its head. The French full-back had crept in behind the unaware Hamit Altintop and controlled the ball expertly before steering a shot with the outside of his left foot past Casillas.
Real Madrid's frustration was evident as a series of ill-timed tackles and aggressive gestures consumed the closing stages. While Barcelona very much have the upper hand and are fully expected to seal the tie at the Camp Nou in a weeks time, Guardiola will know not to take anything for granted as we anticipate another enthralling match-up.