Spanish international midfielder Andres Iniesta marked his comeback from injury with a crucial goal as leaders Barcelona defeated Real Mallorca 3-1 on Saturday to continue where they left off before Christmas.
A first victory this year takes Barca 11 points clear of Valencia, who moved up to second with a 3-1 triumph over Atletico Madrid.
Spain’s Euro 2008 heroes David Villa and David Silva, who grabbed a brace, were the goalscorers for Valencia, rendering Diego Forlan’s penalty irrelevant.
Barcelona had fallen behind to a 15th-minute strike from Real Mallorca’s Aritz Aduriz, but a ninth goal of the season from Thierry Henry and Iniesta’s goal turned the game in their favor.
Iniesta, a star of Spain’s Euro 2008-winning squad, had been injured since the beginning of November, but came on as a 67th-minute substitute and netted eight minutes later after a pass from Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Mallorca, struggling above the relegation zone, also had former Liverpool man Josemi sent off late on after Iniesta humiliated him with a neat drag back.
Yaya Toure completed the scoring at the Camp Nou in stoppage time as he evaded two challenges before ramming the ball home.
Mallorca had been dreaming of becoming the first team to win at the Camp Nou in the league when Aduriz scored a great solo goal on the quarter-hour mark.
Aduriz raced clear of two Barca defenders before defeating Victor Valdes with a great chip.
Henry provided the equalizer on 31 minutes, showing good control with his right foot before dispatching a shot into the corner with his left.
Barca pressed for a second, but it didn’t come and Guardiola introduced Iniesta, who received a standing ovation, for Alexander Hleb on 67 minutes.
Atletico Madrid had not lost since mid-October ahead of their trip to Valencia, but that sequence was broken at the Mestalla Stadium.
On 34 minutes Valencia won a debatable penalty and Villa converted for his 13th goal of the season.
Silva then scored an opportunist toe-poke and grabbed a third on 69 minutes with a fierce left-footed drive for the goal of the game.