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.