Madrid were desperate to gain revenge for the 5-0 hammering they suffered at the hands of Barca last November but, more importantly, they could not afford to see the gap between themselves and the league leaders extend to 11 points with a defeat.
They almost fell behind on 20 minutes when Andres Iniesta played a ball over the top of the Madrid defence for Lionel Messi to run onto, but the normally clinical Argentinian failed with his attempt to lob Iker Casillas.
Madrid responded well and Karim Benzema troubled Victor Valdes before Ronaldo headed over from close range, and they then survived a scare at the other end when David Villa went to ground under a challenge from Casillas, but the official waved away Barca’s appeal for a penalty kick.
Both sides then fashioned chances before half time as Messi forced a fine save from Casillas before Ronaldo was denied by a superb goal-line clearance from Adriano as the first 45 minutes ended goalless.
Ronaldo clattered the upright with a trademark free-kick in the early stages of the second period, and Madrid suddenly found themselves a goal and a man down moments later.
Villa was hauled to the ground by Raul Albiol and the referee had no other option to point to the spot and show the red card to the Real defender, and Messi then stepped up to net his 49th goal in all competitions this season.
Barca suffered a setback when Carles Puyol, just back from injury, was stretchered off, but they did not dwell on the loss and almost doubled their advantage when Xavi struck Casillas’ crossbar.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Madrid were looking threatening, but Angel Di Maria and Pepe both wasted glorious chances as the hosts looked set for a sixth successive defeat in the El Clasico derby.
But seven minutes from time Marcelo was upended by Dani Alves as he raced into the box, and Ronaldo coolly slotted home the resulting penalty to ensure Madrid remain within eight points of the visitors.
The two teams will renew hostilities when they meet in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday night, and Football News will be continuing our special coverage of this four-game series between the two teams in our “El Clasico” section, which you can access by clicking here.