Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been rewriting the football history books for over a decade, and as the pair head into 2020, they are on the verge of racking up a stack of new milestones.

The iconic duo are hoping to propel their respective teams to Champions League glory this season while contesting for domestic honours in Italy and Spain, and there are new records to be set at club and international level for both players too.

Messi's Barcelona are top of LaLiga by two points and he has scored 11 goals in his last 10 games to step into the new year in optimistic mood, while Ronaldo is in a similar hot streak for Juventus after netting five in his last four Serie A outings.

At 32, Messi is two years Ronaldo's junior, but try telling the Juventus talisman that his career is nearing its end and he'll answer you with performances with all the pace, power and intensity of a player in his prime.

As two of the game's greatest embark upon what will doubtless be another year filled with glorious moments, here are the records they stand to smash along the way.

RONALDO: Most European Cup wins

Ronaldo won his fifth Champions League when Real Madrid beat Liverpool in the 2018 final and if he can inspire Juventus to glory in 2020 he will have won Europe's top competition as many times as current record holder Francisco Gento, who won six between 1956 and 1966 for Real Madrid.

MESSI: Top goal-scorer for a single team

Messi is 26 goals away from eclipsing Pele's club goals record of 643, which the Brazil legend is said to have scored for Santos. Record-keeping has become more accurate since Pele's day, and Messi is set to hit a new high that will take some beating.

RONALDO: All-time top European Championship goal-scorer

Ronaldo has scored nine goals for Portugal at the four European Championships where he has represented his country, putting him level with Michel Platini as the competition's leading scorer. If he can find the net in 2020's tournament, he will become the leading Euros marksman of all time.

MESSI AND RONALDO: Most Champions League hat-tricks

Messi and Ronaldo have scored eight hat-tricks each in the Champions League - more than any other player to have graced the competition - and if either can notch another in 2020 they could claim bragging rights for some time to come.

RONALDO: First player to be top scorer in English, Spanish and Italian top flights

Ronaldo is currently joint-fourth in the Serie A scoring charts with 10 goals, behind Joao Pedro (11), Romelu Lukaku (12) and Ciro Immobile (17), but if he can storm his way to the top in 2020 he will become the first player in history to have been top goal-scorer in the English, Spanish and Italian top flights.

MESSI: Seven Ballon d'Or wins

Ronaldo did not attend the Ballon d'Or awards ceremony in 2019 to see Messi claim a record sixth gong, and if the Barca star wins again in 2020 it is hard to see Ronaldo, who has won the award five times, ever catching him.

RONALDO: All-time international top-scorer

Ronaldo will be going all guns blazing for Portugal this year as he attempts to add to his 99 international goals and succeed Ali Daei, who scored 109 for Iran, as the top international marksman of all time.

MESSI: Four consecutive Golden Shoe awards

Messi has been the top goal-scorer in Europe for the last three consecutive seasons and he currently leads the LaLiga scoring charts with 13 goals. He was the first player to win the Golden Shoe, awarded to Europe's leading goal-scorer in league matches, three times in a row and could set another new record by doing it four times on the bounce.

Luis Suarez is confident he and Barcelona will come to an agreement regarding a new contract as he eyes second place in the club's list of record goalscorers.

Suarez joined Barca from Liverpool in 2014 and has gone on to enjoy a wonderful spell at Camp Nou, both in terms of individual accomplishments and success with the club.

In that time, he has scored 190 goals and won every trophy possible, including a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble in 2014-15.

Now 32, Suarez has shown signs of decline in the past year or so, with recent media reports suggesting Barca want to replace him with Inter's Lautaro Martinez, despite the former Ajax star boasting a commendable tally of 10 in 16 LaLiga games this term.

But the Uruguay international appears set for a few more years at the club, as he is seemingly expecting to agree an extension to his current deal, which runs out in 2021.

"I'm very happy at the club," he told Sport. "I have always given myself to the fullest. The statistics and the numbers back that up.

"I think I am up to the task and when it comes to [contract] talks, we will arrive at a good conclusion."

Suarez's haul of 190 goals means he is just four behind Barca great Laszlo Kubala – but the main target he has his eyes on is Cesar Rodriguez.

Cesar netted 232 times from 1942 to 1955 and is second only to Lionel Messi in Barca's list of all-time goalscorers, though Suarez accepts catching his team-mate – who is way out in front on 618 – will be impossible.

"I always said that personal challenges have to be left aside, but in this case, when there is so little to match or overcome a historic player like Kubala and get in there [the top three], you feel very proud," he continued.

"Second place is obviously a more difficult challenge, but that does not take it out of sight.

"You always try, but it will be done over time. First place is unattainable, but it is very exciting to be able to reach Cesar's numbers."

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the 2010s in terms of individual awards and moments of pure inspiration.

Future generations will look back on this past decade as a period obsessed with the two generational talents - their often-exaggerated rivalry exacerbated by spending such a long time on opposite sides of the Clasico divide.

But, while Ronaldo and Messi have filled more column inches than any other player on the planet, there are plenty of others who have been world leaders in their respective positions.

Having looked back over the last 10 years, using Opta data for inspiration, we have selected a Team of the Decade. But who makes the cut?

Is David de Gea selected in goal? Does Luis Suarez join Messi in attack? Has Virgil van Dijk done enough for inclusion? Find out below...

OMNISPORT TEAM OF THE DECADE

Manuel Neuer

There is not much more Manuel Neuer could have achieved over the past 10 years. For much of that time he has been one of the globe's most dependable goalkeepers, even if he has shown signs of decline since a spate of foot injuries. A veteran of seven Bundesliga title triumphs and a World Cup winner with Germany, Neuer boasts a save percentage of 74.2 per cent and has comfortably the most clean sheets (139) this decade in the German top flight.

Dani Alves

Has there ever been a better right-back than Dani Alves? The Brazilian stands to leave an impressive legacy, not just through his thrilling style of play, but with his record-breaking trophy haul of 43 after captaining Brazil to Copa America success this year. Despite being a right-back, he claimed 67 assists in league action through the 2010s, though his greatest contribution came in LaLiga with Barcelona, for whom he set up 51 goals. Marcelo (48) is the closest to him, but he has played 77 times more than the current Sao Paulo star.

Vincent Kompany

Although a brilliant player at his best, it is understandable to suggest Vincent Kompany never reached his ceiling due to injuries. Nevertheless, the Belgian will go down as a Premier League great such has been his impact with Manchester City, with whom he enjoyed four title wins. Kompany recorded 83 Premier League clean sheets in the 2010s, just 10 fewer than record-setter Kyle Walker, who has played 57 more matches. His leadership qualities have been missed by City this season.

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos is a player who often polarises opinion, but he's one of only three players to have been at Madrid for the entire decade, so he must be doing something right. An undisputed leader and fierce competitor, Ramos is a big-game player like few others and boasts a goal-scoring record even many midfielders would be happy with, having netted 43 times in LaLiga since the start of 2010, more than any other defender. Over the past 10 years, he's helped Los Blancos to a remarkable four Champions League titles, while he won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain.

Jordi Alba

At his best, Jordi Alba was almost unstoppable. The flying left-back became a staple and key outlet for one of the great Barcelona teams, with his driving runs – on or off the ball – often creating havoc. A master at making a darting run into the box before cutting a pass back to create a chance, Alba has 38 LaLiga assists to his name for Barca, a record bettered by only Dani Alves and Marcelo among defenders. He gets the nod ahead of his Madrid counterpart as his assist haul is from 72 fewer matches.

Luka Modric

The only player to break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or duopoly, Luka Modric has enjoyed a wonderful decade. A vital part of the Croatia team that enjoyed an historic run to the 2018 World Cup final, Modric also played a big role in Madrid's incredible Champions League domination. Toni Kroos (11,260) is the only midfielder to have completed more passes in LaLiga than Modric (10,759), while he laid on 42 assists and created 522 chances.

N'Golo Kante

If there was an award for the most likeable player of the decade, N'Golo Kante would surely be a frontrunner. Sadly there is no such thing, so he'll have to contend with inclusion in this team. Arguably the key cog in Leicester City's remarkable Premier League title win, Kante followed that up with similarly impressive form at Chelsea and with France, winning the World Cup with Les Bleus last year. He has made 912 tackles and interceptions in the Premier League, putting him fifth among players with 200 appearances or fewer this decade, and each of those who rank higher have played at least 20 matches more.

David Silva

When David Silva leaves Man City at the end of the season, there will inevitably be a debate as to whether he can be regarded the Premier League's greatest 'import'. That this will even be suggested tells you the impact he has had. No one gets close to Silva's record of 89 Premier League assists in the 2010s, with the Spaniard almost certainly the most consistent creator the division has seen in the past 10 years. He was similarly important for Spain until his post-World Cup retirement last year, having previously lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2010 and at Euro 2012, eventually accumulating 125 caps.

Lionel Messi

Where does one even begin with Lionel Messi? If any single player has defined the 2010s – from an individual perspective – in world football, it is surely the Barcelona talisman. In LaLiga, Messi has amassed 505 goal involvements (369 goals, 136 assist) in 343 matches since the start of the decade, routinely carrying Barca to victory. He has won every trophy possible with the Blaugrana over the past 10 years and claimed five Ballons d'Or, with his 2019 victory giving him a record-breaking sixth. Although now 32, he remains frighteningly decisive – all that eludes him is international success with Argentina.

Robert Lewandowski

A long list of immense strikers have starred throughout the 2010s, but arguably chief among them – Ronaldo aside – is Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Having moved from Borussia Dortmund, whom he helped turn into Champions League contenders, the Poland international has developed into a remarkable all-round striker. In 307 Bundesliga games he has 221 goals from 1,163 attempts, meaning he scores every 5.2 shots – by contrast, Ronaldo needs 6.4 efforts per goal. Although he is yet to win Europe's elite club competition, there is little doubt the Pole appears to be getting better with age having already notched 19 league goals this term, just three short of his total for 2018-19.

Cristiano Ronaldo

In the somewhat tiresome 'Ronaldo or Messi' debate about which superstar is "better", the former can at least point to his international successes with Portugal as something that sets him apart, having lifted Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League. That is just the tip of the iceberg for his brilliance in the 2010s, however. Across spells with Real Madrid and Juventus, Ronaldo has scored 335 league goals and laid on 95 assists. With Los Blancos he helped inspire four Champions League successes, also winning a couple of LaLiga titles. What a privilege it has been to see Ronaldo and Messi in the same era.

He left Cleveland for Miami, finally became a champion, went back to his beloved northeast Ohio, delivered on another title promise, then left for the Los Angeles Lakers and the next challenge. He played in eight straight finals. No NBA player won more games or more MVP awards over the last 10 years than he did. He started a school. He married his high school sweetheart.

"That's all?" LeBron James asked, feigning disbelief.

No, that's not all. Those were just some highlights of the last 10 years. There were many more, as the man called "King" spent the last decade reigning over all others — with no signs of slowing down.

 James is The Associated Press male athlete of the decade, adding his name to a list that includes Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Arnold Palmer. He was a runaway winner in a vote of AP member sports editors and AP beat writers, easily outpacing runner-up Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

"You add another 10 years of learning and adversity, pitfalls, good, great, bad, and any smart person who wants to grow will learn from all those experiences," James, who turns 35 Monday, told the AP. "A decade ago, I just turned 25. I'm about to be 35 and I'm just in a better (place) in my life and have a better understanding of what I want to get out of life."

Usain Bolt of Jamaica was third for dominating the sprints at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, soccer superstar Lionel Messi was fourth and Michael Phelps — the U.S. swimmer who retired as history's most decorated Olympian with 28 medals, 23 gold — was fifth.

Lionel Messi has revealed how a little homework has transformed his free-kick scoring rate this season.

The Barcelona star netted six goals from 41 set-piece attempts on goal last term, but Opta statistics show he has already found the back of the net four times from 12 efforts in the 2019-20 LaLiga campaign.

Much of what Messi achieves appears to be based on a unique natural talent, but a rare insight into his dead-ball striking suggests there is more than meets the eye to his remarkable scoring feats.

Goalkeepers may have had enough of Messi putting the ball beyond them, but getting the better of the men in the gloves is an eternal challenge for the Argentinian.

"Recently I have been looking into it, and especially in free-kicks, to see if they move before, if they make a small movement, if not, how they react, how they place the wall," Messi said.

"It's true that I am now studying this a bit more. But everything is work and training, I have been getting better with training."

In an interview with LaLiga to mark the league's 90th anniversary, Messi said the 432 goals that make him the league's all-time record scorer fill him with pride.

"To be the top historical scorer of LaLiga, with what the Spanish league means, is special," he said.

"To be honest I think that this is one of the best records I have.

"Every time I go out on the pitch, I think less about the goal and more about the game."

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner recalled his early years at Barcelona when his strike rate was nothing like it has become.

Messi has become a near goal-a-game menace to defences, but it was not always the case.

"The first few years, it was difficult for me to score goals; either I was missing or I didn't have any luck," he said.

He remembered a pep talk from Samuel Eto'o, who predicted the floodgates would eventually open - "because you have a lot of chances and you don’t finish them".

Messi added: "Then one day it clicked, they went in."

Rafael Nadal says it is impossible to compare his tennis rivalry with Roger Federer to the clash of the football titans between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The similarity has often been suggested, based on the rationale that Federer and Messi are aesthetically extraordinary while Nadal and Ronaldo are machine-like in their winning nature and physically immense.

Ronaldo's Juventus club-mate, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, floated the theory in October, saying the "comparison is obvious and makes me smile".

The football rivalry was never greater when Ronaldo was at Real Madrid, as it put him and his club in direct opposition to Messi at Barcelona.

Messi recently went past Ronaldo's haul of Ballon d'Or triumphs when he took his sixth award, crowning him as the world's top player for this year.

But Nadal, whose French Open and US triumphs in 2019 took him to 19 grand slam titles, one behind all-time leader Federer, scotched the idea that players in one sport can be likened to those from another.

He told Marca.com: "No comparison is possible. They are two completely different sports and Messi's characteristics are not those of Federer nor are those of Cristiano like mine. Each one is as he is."

Nadal could pass 38-year-old Federer in 2020, and Novak Djokovic is also in the race to finish with the most slams, sitting on 16 to date.

But Nadal says the grand slam record would be a by-product of his dedication rather than the result of chasing it down as a main objective.

"It's not important to me, if only I'm given this title," Nadal said. "I understand for you, the media, the journalists, you have to write about this.

"For me, it's already satisfying to form part of the history of our sport.

"I've been training and making an effort since I was eight. Being where I am at 33 is already an incredible achievement.

"We're in numbers that were unimaginable. People can already think who is the best and who isn't. For me, it's a great honour to be in this group."

Kylian Mbappe has told Neymar he will never attempt to replace him as Paris Saint-Germain's main man.

With Neymar having struggled with injuries during his time in Paris, Mbappe has often established himself as the key player in PSG's attack since his move from Monaco in 2017.

The 21-year-old scored 39 goals across all competitions last season and already has 18 to his name this campaign.

However, Mbappe insists he is not wishing to take any limelight away from Neymar, who has been in fine form for Thomas Tuchel's side when fit this season.

"When I arrived in Paris, there was no debate. It was him [Neymar], the superstar, whom I had come to help a little," Mbappe told France Football.

"He gets injured, [Brazil go out of] the World Cup and I win it. And there begins to come out of stories about our alleged rivalry, about my willingness to take his place. 

"I was shocked to hear all of this. When I came back in August 2018, the first thing I did was go and catch Neymar to tell him: 'Don't worry, I won't be walking on your flower beds here. I assure you that I do not want to take your place, you can keep it. I'm always here to help you.'"

Mbappe may not be aiming to compete with Neymar, but he is looking to get the better of another superstar.

Lionel Messi won a record sixth Ballon d'Or this year, and Mbappe has set his sights on finishing as the top scorer in Europe, though he acknowledged it will be tough to outdo the Barcelona forward.

"Rather than putting my head down and waiting quietly for the end of the season, I tried to outdo myself," Mbappe said.

"I then realised that I could try to seek this title of best European scorer. But, opposite, there was Messi. I'd score two, he'd score three; I'd score three, he'd score four! 

"It was so crazy that I talked about it with Ousmane [Dembele]. 'It is not possible, does he do it on purpose? He looks at the number of goals I score?' 'Of course he's looking at you!'

"I said to myself: Yes, Messi is watching me. It is flattering to see that such a player does not neglect you."

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde paid tribute to Lionel Messi for his innate ability to make a decisive impact following a wonderful goal in Saturday's 4-1 win over Deportivo Alaves.

Other than having an early goal disallowed, Messi had been unusually subdued by his standards at Camp Nou.

Although Barca went into half-time 2-0 up, Alaves scored early in the second period and grew in confidence until Messi struck his 50th goal for club and country this year.

Seemingly surrounded by players, Messi managed to unleashed a fierce strike into the left side of the net from 25 yards and Barca cruised from there, with Luis Suarez – who set up the first three goals – adding a late fourth from the penalty spot.

Despite Suarez arguably being the star of the show, Valverde focused on Messi after the match, singling out his impact when Barca were appearing to lose some of their control.

"All matches require a lot," the coach said. "When they scored, they were spurred on and they had the chance to equalise, but Leo scored a great goal and things are seen in a different way from there.

"I think we played the game well, I would say the first half was very good, then we had less momentum at the beginning of the second. We got a boost with the third goal.

"These things happen with Messi. We see it all the time. Something like that can happen, and it's a huge advantage that we have Messi.

"Leo appears and makes you a goal from anywhere."

With Saturday's win, Barca are likely to go into 2020 top of LaLiga, with Real Madrid needing a big win against Athletic Bilbao to prevent that occurring.

Lionel Messi took his goals tally for club and country in 2019 to 50 with a stunning strike in Barcelona's final match of the year, helping them to a 4-1 win over Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The Argentina superstar had been unusually subdued for much of the match, appearing a little off the pace, but he produced a ferocious 25-yard effort in the second half to ensure he finishes the sixth successive calendar year with at least half a century of goals.

Alaves kept Barca at bay for only 14 minutes, as Antoine Griezmann scored his fourth goal in seven matches across all competitions, and Arturo Vidal doubled their lead with a fierce strike just before half-time.

The visitors did hit back through Pere Pons early in the second half, offering them encouragement, but Messi effectively ended their hopes with his wonderful strike and Luis Suarez – who had set up the first three goals – deservedly got in on the act late on from a controversial penalty.

The warning signs were there early on for Alaves, as Messi had a goal disallowed in the 10th minute as a VAR review identified him to have strayed marginally offside.

But with their next move, Barca opened the scoring – Griezmann placing a right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner from the edge of the box following Suarez's lay off.

Vidal was similarly decisive late in the half, receiving Suarez's pass and blasting an emphatic strike in across goal.

Alaves began the second period brightly and got themselves a lifeline through Pons' powerful header, leaving Marc-Andre ter Stegen no chance when arriving late to meet Ruben Duarte's cross.

But Messi turned on the style 21 minutes from time when lashing in from almost 30 yards despite being seemingly surrounded.

And the excellent Suarez rounded off the scoring soon after, converting from 12 yards after a VAR review deemed Martin Aguirregabiria to have handled the Uruguayan's previous header.

What does it mean? Barca set to start 2020 top

Although the scoreline arguably flattered Barca, there was rarely any doubt about who was going to win and the victory means they should begin the New Year top of the league.

Only a remarkable result in Real Madrid's match against Athletic Bilbao will prevent that.

Suarez knits it all together

Several Barca players have come in for significant criticism this season, with Suarez among them. But on Saturday he was excellent, playing a hand in all four goals. His awareness when setting up the first three was particularly impressive.

Ely fails to halt Suarez

The man tasked with keeping Suarez under control was Rodrigo Ely. The Brazilian failed. He barely got near the striker all match and had a miserable outing.

What's next?

LaLiga's winter break kicks in for these two sides now. Barca's season resumes on January 4 at struggling city rivals Espanyol, while Alaves host Real Betis the following day.

Lionel Messi reached 50 goals for the sixth consecutive calendar year by netting for Barcelona against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The 32-year-old scored with a superb 20-yard curling strike in the 69th minute at Camp Nou as Barca moved closer to a key LaLiga victory.

Messi's effort restored Barca's two-goal advantage after Alaves had responded to earlier strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Arturo Vidal with an effort of their own from Pere Pons.

Argentina forward Messi moved on to 50 goals from 58 matches for club and country in 2019. He has also provided 18 assists as part of a fine year that saw him win a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Of Messi's 50 this year, 34 have arrived in 32 LaLiga matches, with eight scored in the Champions League and three in the Copa del Rey. 

The remaining five came in matches for Argentina, for whom he has made 10 appearances this year.

Messi's extraordinary consistency has seen him score 50 or more in nine of the last 10 years, the only one in that span where he missed out being 2013, when he notched 45.

His best year came when he scored an astonishing 91 in 2012.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is displaying a similar level of quality to Lionel Messi, according to former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Salah has won the Premier League's Golden Boot award for the past two seasons - although he shared it with club team-mate Sadio Mane and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018-19 - and the 27-year-old already has 13 goals to his name in all competitions this season.

The former Roma forward has also provided seven assists, a tally which includes teeing up Naby Keita's opening goal in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday.

With the Egyptian stepping into a playmaker role as well as being an unerringly accurate finisher, Wenger believes Salah is now showing flashes of play on the same level as Barcelona superstar and 2019 Ballon d'Or winner Messi.

"I like his evolution," Wenger told beIN Sports. "Because he had touches [against Monterrey] of a playmaker.

"He created chances around the box that are exceptional, there were shades of Messi in him and I like that a guy who can score so many goals also becomes the guy who gives assists.

"That is a complete player. That's what we all admire and what we want from our players."

Wenger was speaking in a joint interview with Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, who echoed the Frenchman's sentiment.

"Very good, very good experiences [with Salah] but the most positive was on the training ground – sensationally good," Klopp said. "On the pitch he's great, really, really good."

Liverpool take on Copa Libertadores champions Flamengo in the Club World Cup final on Saturday.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane deserved to win this year's Ballon d'Or, according to former Manchester City and Barcelona star Yaya Toure.

Lionel Messi scooped a record sixth Ballon d'Or earlier in December, edging out Mane's club-mate Virgil van Dijk.

However, Toure believes Mane - who scored 26 goals in all competitions last term as Liverpool finished second in the Premier League and won the Champions League - should have claimed the prize.

"To be honest he deserved to win the Ballon d'Or. In Africa we don't see any better players than him," Toure told reporters in Doha, where he is a guest of FIFA at the Club World Cup.

"Did you see the votes, did you see what he did in the last year, how many goals he scored, what he achieved with Liverpool?

"For me it is a shame when a team wins this trophy (the Champions League) and the winner of the Ballon d'Or is not coming from there."

Liverpool currently hold a 10-point advantage over Leicester City at the top of the Premier League and are 14 points clear of third-place Manchester City, and Toure acknowledged the Reds - who are unbeaten in the league - would be worthy champions.

"Liverpool are great, they are doing very well and they deserve their position at the moment," he said.

"There is a long way to go but Liverpool are a good side and they look much stronger than last year. The way I see City is their form this year has been quite complicated but, 10 points in front, Liverpool have a good, good chance.

"When you see the league today there are a few teams who are quite disappointing, like Arsenal and a couple of others, but Liverpool have the chance to have the honours this year."

Having overcome Monterrey 2-1 on Wednesday, Liverpool face Flamengo on Saturday in the Club World Cup final.

On the day of El Clasico, the final one of this decade, the crowds gathered early – even by the fixture's normal standards.

But the thousands in attendance weren't just congregating outside Camp Nou for an early glimpse of the team buses. No, they were there for the start of a demonstration organised by Catalan independence activists Tsunami Democratic.

Initial estimations had expected 18,000 supporters of the cause to attend, though the group themselves claimed on Wednesday they were distributing 100,000 banners.

Their aim? To encourage a dialogue between Spain and Catalonia following the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders in October for their respective roles in the region's 2017 referendum and declaration of independence.

The match had been almost two months in waiting, as the political tension played a significant part in the game being postponed in October.

A different demonstration had been planned on the day of the initial Clasico on October 26, but due to security fears it was put back. So, Tsunami Democratic simply pencilled in another protest to fall in line with the new date. This time, the fixture did go ahead, finishing 0-0.

Despite the efforts of security staff, many pro-independence banners made it into the ground and could be seen as the teams walked out to the famous 'Cant del Barca' anthem.

Emblazoned with the slogan 'Spain, sit and talk', the bright blue pieces of plastic stood out amid the stadium-wide mosaic. A much larger yellow banner with the same phrase could be seen right in the middle of the crowd facing the main stand, taking on extra symbolism as it accompanied the top-to-bottom yellow and red stripes borrowed from Catalonia's Estelada flag.

The charged atmosphere gave every impression the contest itself would be a fiery one, but in reality it fell short of expectations.

While still gripping, the match highlighted Barca's shortcomings, with their tactics something resembling 'Lionel Messi or bust'.

With their talisman curiously subdued, rarely did Barca give the impression they could rise to the occasion and outclass their rivals in what was a tense encounter.

The Blaugrana's midfield was without Sergio Busquets, who was replaced just before the match due to illness and without him Barca had significantly less of a presence in the middle.

Frenkie de Jong, playing in his first Clasico, looked particularly lost at times in the first half, gifting possession back to Madrid or putting the hosts under pressure.

In attack, there were few occasions they managed to carve through Madrid, with Messi often crowded out and nullified in a generally ineffective display by his standards.

Alongside him, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann were willing runners but not clinical or creative enough to truly worry the Madrid defence, having no shots on target and three key passes between them.

The best chance of the match fell to Casemiro in the first half – his header crucially cleared off the line by Gerard Pique, before Sergio Ramos did similar at the other end to thwart Messi.

The political backdrop came to the fore again after the interval when inflatable balls rained down from the stands and on to the pitch, causing a two-minute stoppage to the match.

That proved to be arguably the most notable incident in a second half that was dominated by frantic bursts up field, but sorely lacking in composure.

Despite the lack of brilliance on display, in some ways it was the Clasico this political climate needed, with tensions never boiling over on the pitch. 

At full-time there was an air of relief – no losers, no mass celebrations that might have fuelled those looking to use their politics to cause trouble.

But a public address message late in the match alerted those in attendance to potential issues outside the ground, with reports of fires behind the south stand.

Much of the post-match focus will be on the politically charged incidents, but as they slip away from the chaos of Catalonia, Madrid will be quietly happy to take a point back to the capital after avoiding a defeat that might have further emboldened those using the platform of football to push certain agendas.

Gareth Bale saw a goal disallowed as Barcelona and Real Madrid played out a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

LaLiga's top two went into the contest level on points this season and with 72 wins each from previous league meetings, and there was nothing to separate them in a tense clash in Catalonia.

The match was rearranged from October after the initial date became a security risk due to the prospect of Catalan independence protests, and there were fans inside and outside the stadium making their voices heard over one of Spain's most divisive issues.

The action on the pitch was a little less fraught, Bale's second-half strike - ruled out for offside - representing the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock.

Madrid controlled the early exchanges and only Gerard Pique's timely intervention on the line denied Casemiro an opening goal with a header.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen beat away another Casemiro effort after Madrid had penalty shouts waved away following a shirt pull on Raphael Varane, who had earlier squared up to Jordi Alba.

Thibaut Courtois went untested until the half-hour mark, when he palmed away a teasing Alba cross and the covering Sergio Ramos cleared Lionel Messi's rebound from in front of goal.

Alba had a golden chance to snatch the lead before half-time but could only side-foot wide of the right-hand post following a sublime lofted pass from Messi.

The second half proved more of an end-to-end affair, Bale rippling the side-netting and then seeing celebrations cut short when his tap-in was disallowed after a VAR review for an offside against Ferland Mendy.

A frustrated Messi made a mess of a chance just inside the box, failing to connect cleanly with the ball to sum up a clash surprisingly short on attacking quality.

 

What does it mean? LaLiga leaders deadlocked in title battle

Barca and Madrid are now on 36 points each at the top of the table, five clear of third-place Sevilla, with just one game left in 2019.

There was little to split them in a cagey encounter and the title race certainly looks likely to remain a tense one in the new year.

Lenglet a leading light

In a match where defences triumphed, Clement Lenglet was probably the best on the pitch, keeping Karim Benzema away from Ter Stegen's goal and building play well from the back.

An off-day at last for Messi

The Clasico's record goalscorer swiped at thin air with his only half-chance of the game and was otherwise unable to get Barca firing in attack, with Madrid keeping him firmly in check.

What's next?

In the final round of league games before the mid-season break, Barca host Deportivo Alaves on Saturday and Madrid welcome Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Treating Barcelona captain Lionel Messi like a normal opponent will only end in El Clasico misery for Real Madrid, Raphael Varane has warned.

France international Varane and his fellow Madrid defenders will have their hands full when they square off against Barca's expensively assembled front three for the first time on Wednesday.

Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann have already scored four goals between them in December and will hope to help fire the champions three points clear of their LaLiga title rivals at Camp Nou.

Barca captain Messi remains the most obvious danger to the visitors' 11-game undefeated streak and, though the Ballon d'Or winner has failed to score in his past three Clasico appearances, centre-back Varane insisted every single Madrid player would have to do their bit to curb his influence.

"He is a special player and you can't defend him like any other player," Varane said, courtesy of LaLiga.

"He has his characteristics and he demands great focus from you and you have to defend him together with your team-mates.

"It's a collective effort... we have to leave him as little space as possible."

Both sides drew their last LaLiga games but have been in good form, with Barca having won their previous seven across all competitions.

Some critics have accused Ernesto Valverde of deviating too far from the club's ingrained playing principles, but Varane expected to confront a familiar challenge.

"I don't see much of a difference," he said. "They always have the same identity and playing style out on the pitch and the same philosophy, and the important players are the same.

"We know that it's always difficult to play against them but at the same time we know what to expect."

Varane tipped both teams to deliver a spectacle befitting what he claimed was the highest-quality fixture in world football. 

"I believe that in these kinds of games you always want to come into them with confidence," the 26-year-old said.

"But it's special, no doubt. When both teams take to the field they leave their doubts aside, it's a battle. It doesn't really matter how the last few games have been.

"When you step out onto the field, everything's different."

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