Barcelona, March 23: Luis Suarez's winners helped FC Barcelona defeat Real Madrid 2-1 to open up a four-point lead at the top of the La Liga.
Suarez scored the winning goal in a tense and at times fractious match in which Real Madrid were the better side in the first 45 minutes, but ran out steam after half time on Sunday, reports Xinhua.
There were very few surprises in the starting line-ups as Barcelona coach Luis Enrique decided against risking the fitness of Sergio Busquets, who began the game on the bench.
That once again saw Javier Mascherano push into midfield with Jeremy Mathieu partnering Gerard Pique in central defense.
Meanwhile Luka Modric, Isco and Tony Kroos form the trident in the Real midfield in a game which started with both sides looking sharp.
Cristiano Ronaldo sent a volley against the Barcelona crossbar after 12 minutes following French forward Karim Benzema's cross.
Madrid were looking good, but it was Barcelona who opened the scoring when Pepe fouled Luis Suarez. Messi sent over the cross and Mathieu picked the perfect moment to score his first goal for the club with a powerful header past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Messi then teed up Jordi Alba to fire over and saw a free kick deflected for a corner, while both Suarez and Pepe saw yellow cards after exchanging fouls. Madrid drew level after the half hour as Ronaldo drilled past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo following more good work by Benzema, who had in turn been fed by the impressive Modric.
Tension was reaching boiling point and Ronaldo was then booked for diving, before Alba also picked a yellow card for dissent and Gareth Bale had a goal ruled offside following a tight off-side decision against Ronaldo.
Real were on top and Barcelona's goalkeeper Bravo had to save a Ronaldo drive before Bale missed a chance he should have scored with his left foot with the home side desperate for the half-time whistle.
The start of the second half saw both sides take stock of the situation. But Barcelona hit the fast forward button in the 56th minute when Suarez restored their lead with a right foot shot following good work from Dani Alves.
The goal was a body blow for Real, who struggled to react and Barcelona began to take control of a game in which yellow cards were produced at a regular rate.
Neymar missed chances to seal the win for Barcelona before Busquets came on for Ivan Rakitic with 15 minutes remaining. Meanwhile Xavi Hernandez replaced Andres Iniesta as Enrique sought to keep control of the game.
Messi, Suarez and Alba all had chances in the closing minutes. But Barcelona were unable to add to their lead, although Real were unable to threaten an equaliser in what was a poor second half from Carlo Ancelotti's side.