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Madrid shows strength despite draw at Camp Nou 'clásico'

MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid made a clear statement at Camp Nou Stadium in the first “clásico” of the season, showing Barcelona it has what it takes to dethrone the Spanish champion this season. The game — played amid heavy security because of separatist protests in the Catalan capital — ended in a 0-0 draw that kept Barcelona top of the Spanish league with a better goal difference. But it was Zinedine Zidane's Madrid that looked the better team and deserved the victory.

Thanks to a high-pressing tactic that successfully took possession away from Barcelona, Madrid kept its rival uncomfortable throughout the match. Madrid was the most dangerous team, with Barcelona threatening only the few times Lionel Messi found some free space within the Madrid defense.

“We saw Real Madrid play with great personality,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “We controlled the match, creating most of the chances. We came out pressuring to take the ball away from them and that created a lot of difficulties.”

Madrid pressed high from the start, making it difficult for Barcelona to make the transition from defense to attack. Several times it had to force the ball up field, often leading to passing errors and loss of possession. The hosts ended the match with only 52% of ball possession, well below its average.

“It’s an opponent that is not comfortable when you go after them,” Madrid coach Zidane said. “We know they don’t like to run after the ball.” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde made some adjustment at halftime and Barcelona improved in the second half, when the match was mostly even and with few scoring chances for either team. Still, Madrid finished with 17 attempts against only nine by Barcelona.

“When you have the chances, you need to capitalize on them, and it wasn’t the case tonight (Wednesday),” Zidane said. “We did enough to win this match, but what was important is that we showed a good attitude until the end. We played a great match.”

Madrid had a goal by Gareth Bale disallowed for offside in the second half, and thought it deserved penalties when defender Raphael Varane's jersey was grabbed inside the area and when he was hit on the leg by a high kick.

Despite being mostly outplayed, Barcelona had one of the game’s best chances when Jordi Alba received a perfect pass by Messi inside the box, shooting it wide. “We suffered when they pressed high, we struggled to overcome that,” Valverde said. “We expected it, but sometimes the opponent is good and evens the match. We were not able to escape their pressure at times.”

The first scoreless “clásico” in 17 years kept the teams tied with 36 points, five more than third-place Sevilla after 17 matches. Barcelona has a two-goal advantage over Madrid on the goal-difference tiebreaker.

“There is still a long way to go,” Valverde said. The game — played in front of a crowd of 93,426 at the Camp Nou — went ahead without any major incidents even though outside a detachment of riot police clashed with protesters soon after the start. Plastic trash cans were set on fire, and the smell of smoke from the streets reached the stands in the final minutes of the match.

The game was halted only briefly when some fans threw balls onto the field bearing a message for the Spanish government to open a dialogue with the separatists. The match was played on Wednesday after being postponed from Oct. 26 amid violent protests by the separatists.

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