Real, Barcelona share the spoils in opener
Having hogged the headlines for a number of bad-tempered clashes last season, the two played out a game refreshingly void of late challenges and mass-brawls.
Another surprise saw Real adopt the role of the cultivated passing side out of the two, opening the scoring through Mesut Ozil and then levelling through Xabi Alonso.
Barcelona boss Josep Guardiola, who remains unbeaten as manager in the Santiago Bernabeu, remained cautious over Wednesday's second leg. "We hope that with our crowd we will have an advantage," he said. "I'm satisfied with our efforts tonight, but they were dangerous.
"We have had a limited time together with some players only back training a matter of days. Dani Alves, Abidal and Adriano kept us in it at times so I am especially happy with them."
Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas was pleased with Madrid's performance. "We've played well, passed the ball around and we're happy, little by little we're getting there, we'll go to Barcelona to try and win the trophy," he said.
Real's shift in style could well be traced back to the accusations thrown at them last season when, after they were crushed in the league and the UEFA Champions League by Barcelona, they were accused of being unable to live with their Catalan rivals.
That was not the case here. Karim Benzema, their most impressive performer throughout pre-season, saw an effort deflected wide off Eric Abidal, while the same player was denied once more when Victor Valdes clawed his header, which flew up off the turf, away to safety.
Sergio Ramos then saw a drive hit Javier Mascherano and the pressure was so intense it was only a matter of time before Madrid scored. That time was the 12th minute. Benzema was again involved, bustling his way through before laying on a ball which Ozil hit across Valdes and into the bottom right-hand corner. Not to be left out, Cristiano Ronaldo had a strike smothered by Valdes, but that effort signalled the end of Real's wave of attacks as Barcelona grew.
They did not create any chances of note and, when Villa left Iker Casillas grasping at the air with a 35th-minute screamer, it came out of the blue. Real were wondering what they had done wrong but, rather than ponder themselves, Barcelona scored again just before the break, with Messi slotting home after Sami Khedira inadvertently bundled the ball into his path.
Their lead only lasted until the 53rd minute, though, with Alonso afforded the time and space he needed to roll home into the corner from the edge of the box. Ronaldo then forced Valdes to punch away his shot, while Messi whipped a free-kick over the bar.
The spirit of the game was sorely tested when both Ronaldo and Pedro appealed for penalties, but tempers cooled enough for the game to end level heading into Wednesday's second leg.