Barcelona struck what may turn out to be a decisive blow in the Primera Division title race by defeating Real Madrid 2-0, to go three points clear at the summit.
Lionel Messi’s 40th goal of the season in all competitions put the reigning Spanish and European champions on their way, and Pedro Rodriguez completed the scoring 10 minutes after half-time.
The result ended Madrid’s 12-match winning streak in La Liga and their 100% record at the Bernabeu.
Real dominated possession in the early stages, but despite their territorial advantage they rarely threatened the Barca goal. Then, just after the hour mark, Messi, the World Player of the Year, struck.
Collecting Xavi’s return pass on his chest, the Argentinian cut inside the Madrid centre-back Albiol before poking home right-footed past Iker Casillas.
Any hope of a Madrid fightback ended shortly after the interval when Barca doubled their lead through Pedro.
Xavi was again the creator, with his pass sending Pedro through, and the young winger slotted past Casillas from the edge of the penalty box.
Barca keeper Valdes would find himself busy in the next 15 minutes as Madrid desperately tried to get back into game.
Cristiano Ronaldo was twice denied by Valdes while substitute Guti also tested the keeper.
A late Raul effort was chalked off for a questionable handball against Karim Benzema, and with it went Madrid’s hopes of getting anything out of the match.
Messi said afterwards that the current Barcelona team could write more chapters in the club’s history.
“The title is not won and there are some tough games left but this was an important step and we can continue making history,” he said.
“The team showed that we are superior to any opponent if we want to be, however you have to do it on the pitch and we did tonight. It was a really important win but now we have to carry on.”