Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos spat adds to dramatic el clasico as Real Madrid captain argues against red card
They are good friends but even better enemies.
And, truth be told, after a match with too many storylines to mention and a finale straight out of a screenplay, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique’s spat was barely-needed drama on a night with more than its fair share.
Pique is no stranger to controversy and has been involved in so many social media sagas now that it’s more unusual when he posts something that doesn’t offend half of the Spanish-speaking world.
This time, he went straight to the television cameras after a feisty clásico that Barcelona had snatched 3-2 with the final kick of the game.
"When Ramos gets home he'll regret what he did. The red card is very clear, he goes with his two feet and Messi was clear on goal,” Pique opined of the challenge that saw his international central defensive partner dismissed with 13 minutes to go, with Barcelona leading 2-1.
"Here [in Madrid] they're used to very lenient refereeing and when a referee does a good job he's then the bad guy."
Pique has a barely-concealed disdain for Barcelona’s arch rivals, and his words were designed to stir the pot in a title race that now has a new lease of life.
The former Manchester United defender is right on one count, that Sergio Ramos was correctly dismissed for a dangerous two-footed tackle where he left the ground.
But to describe referee Hernandez Hernandez’s performance as “a good job” may be stretching things somewhat.
Indeed, Barcelona were the side most affected by Mr Hernandez’s leniency, allowing a catalogue of increasingly-varied assaults on Lionel Messi as the hosts struggled to deal with the Argentinean superstar.
Casemiro’s angle was to repeatedly clip Messi, Marcelo bloodied his rival’s mouth with an elbow while Mateo Kovacic went for the old-fashioned hack. Sergio Ramos, leaving the ground with both feet, took things beyond the pale but, in reality, the line had been crossed some time before that.
Ramos, fairly predictably, didn’t agree though.
"The red card is excessive. I admit that I'm late but I don't want to hurt him, there's no danger - he jumps, I don't touch him,” Ramos said.
"Now in Barcelona they'll say whatever they want. Geri [Piqué] loves to talk about referees, complaining, tweeting, and he got it his way,” spouted the Real Madrid skipper when confronted with Pique’s thoughts.
"I defend what's mine, Piqué what's his and when we defend the same we do it together, but don't expect me to hug him after a clásico."
There was no embrace but these two teams are now clasped together firmly on 75 points. Real Madrid have a game in hand but they also have a schedule that is overflowing – and two of those games will be breathless midweek encounters against cross-town foes Atletico.
Luis Enrique pointed to the Champions League fixtures last week as being a contributory factor to this game’s remarkable openness. “Clearly the rhythm was high, but at times it was uncontrollable,” he said.
Madrid have two more Champions League games to come, perhaps a third if they’re lucky, and if they weren’t concerned about those taking their toll then Luis Enrique is certainly hoping that they might begin to be.
Which brings us back to Sergio Ramos – a man who has just ensured his own freshness by landing himself a suspension. That ban leaves Zinedine Zidane in a bit of a bind for this Wednesday’s trip to Deportivo La Coruña, where Nacho is the only senior centre-back available. Sunday night’s hatchetman Casemiro could deputise, having played there a bit while young at Sao Paulo but it’s a problem Zidane could have lived without. Especially now that there's no margin for error.
Real Madrid’s depth has, up until now, been a key factor in the narrow advantage they hold over their eternal rivals. They have a raft of back-up players who have stepped up and performed when first-team stars were missing – most notably the likes of Isco, James Rodrgiuez, Nacho, Lucas Vazquez and the brilliant Marco Asensio.
Barcelona, by contrast, splashed out on improving their depth last summer and none of those arrivals, barring Samuel Umtiti, have really contributed. Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer have both been expensive failures since arriving from Valencia for north of £70m. They may come good, but it won’t be in time to salvage their seasons. Denis Suarez was cheap but hasn’t worked. Arda Turan’s couple of years at the Nou Camp have been an immense waste. There are more. And, worst of all, the club didn’t even bother buying in the position they needed it most last summer. A right-back would be the priority in the coming off-season if there wasn't so much else to sort.
This Wednesday Barcelona host Osasuna looking to keep up the pressure while Madrid head to Galicia where that depth will be tested once again.
After a night when Barca’s biggest star came through for them in such a big way, it seems odd to be talking about the bench-warmers and misfits of either of these squads.
But they have already been a difference between the teams, and how Madrid bounce back on Wednesday with availability such an issue could well define their season.