Free-scoring Neymar hit a double as Barcelona beat Villarreal 2-1 to move three points clear at the top of La Liga, while 10-man Real Madrid lost ground as they were held to a 2-2 draw at CA Osasuna after Sergio Ramos was sent off.
Brazil forward Neymar, who got a treble in a 6-1 Champions League win over Celtic last week, scored a first-half penalty before putting Barca back in front late in the game after Mateo Musacchio headed the visitors level early in the second.
“This performance has made me the happiest yet as it follows on from the good performances against Cartagena [a 4-1 win in the Copa del Rey] and Celtic, and we were against a strong Villarreal side,” Barca coach Gerardo Martino told a news conference.
The Catalan side are now on 43 points, three more than Atletico Madrid, who were to host Valencia yesterday, and five in front of rivals Real, who fought back from two goals down to claim a draw with Osasuna after being reduced to 10 men in the 44th minute.
Real seemed like they would keep the pressure on leaders Barca, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side starting confidently after having won their past five league games, but were undone by Oriol Riera Magem.
Real zipped the ball around with pace early on, with Osasuna at full stretch to contain strikers Cristiano Ronaldo, who dragged an early shot wide, and Karim Benzema.
So it was a shock when Osasuna took the lead with Riera left totally unmarked to head in Marc Bertran’s cross.
The goal took the wind out of Real and they again failed to mark properly when Damia Abella won a header that goalkeeper Diego Lopez beat away, only for Riera to nod in the rebound.
Riera’s two first-half headers gave Osasuna the advantage, but Isco pulled a goal back before the break. Ramos was returning from suspension, but saw red again after 43 minutes.
The ineffective Bale was taken off 10 minutes into the second half as they searched for an equalizer that eventually came from a Pepe header a minute after Osasuna were reduced to 10 men with Francisco Silva’s dismissal in the 79th.
In Saturday’s late game, a Roque Santa Cruz header gave Bernd Schuster’s Malaga a 1-0 win over visiting Getafe to put them five points above the relegation zone.
Elsewhere, mid-table Granada won 2-0 at lowly Rayo Vallecano de Madrid with goals in either half from Fran Rico and Riki.