Real Madrid climbed to the top of La Liga on Saturday after Karim Benzema’s flicked finish helped them claim a thrilling 2-1 victory over Barcelona in a wild Clasico at Valdebebas.
Benzema’s superb piece of skill and a deflected Toni Kroos free-kick put Madrid in charge and while Oscar Mingueza pulled one back for Barca, they fell to defeat in what could be Lionel Messi’s final appearance in this fixture.
Victory means Real Madrid go level on points with Atletico, with the top three now separated by a single point.
Atletico, without the injured Luis Suarez, face Real Betis on Sunday.
With Atletico stumbling and both Barca and Real Madrid hitting their stride, this game looked set to define, if not the title, then who would become favourites to be crowned champions in May.
The result was a riveting contest at a rain-soaked Alfredo di Stefano stadium – certainly one of the most exciting Clasicos in years – that saw both teams squander numerous chances, several efforts come back off the woodwork and Casemiro sent off in extra time.
With the last play of the game, Barcelona substitute Ilaix Moriba rattled Real Madrid’s crossbar.
Casemiro’s red card had also given Messi a free-kick and the chance for a dramatic equaliser but instead the Argentinian made it seven games now without a goal against Real Madrid, with many wondering if his 45th Clasico will be his last.
Messi might yet turn the tide in the eight games still remaining but there is no doubt Madrid are in the groove after backing up beating Liverpool 3-1 on Tuesday with another crucial victory.
They can finish the job in the Champions League at Anfield next week.