BARCELONA struck a potentially decisive blow in the Primera Division title race by ending Real Madrid's perfect home record to go three points clear at the summit in Spain. Lionel Messi's 40th goal of the season in all competitions put the reigning Spanish and European champions on the road to victory in El Clasico, and Pedro Rodriguez completed the scoring ten minutes after half time.
The result ended Madrid's 12-match winning streak in La Liga and their 100 per cent record at the Bernabeu, which had stood at 15 successive triumphs, but more importantly it put Barca in pole position, to retain their league crown as they sit three points clear of Madrid with seven games to go.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola sprang a surprise with his line-up, starting with just two recognised forwards in Messi and Pedro. That perhaps contributed to a cagey first half which produced little goalmouth action. The only incident of note in the opening half-hour was a penalty claim by Messi. The Argentine went down in the area under a challenge from Raul Albiol but referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez waved play on.
Messi was celebrating 20 minutes later, though, after an incisive one-two with Xavi. The World Player of the Year still had work to do as he brought down Xavi's return pass on his chest, but Albiol could not block as the striker cut inside the Madrid centre-back before stabbing home past Iker Casillas. That would be the only goal, and the only real chance of a stop-start first half.
The second half started with no new faces on the pitch, although Guardiola did re-shuffle his line-up, with Dani Alves returning to right-back from right wing. Madrid looked more purposeful after the restart and finally gave Victor Valdes something to do in the 51st minute when Marcelo tried his luck.
However, three minutes later Barca doubled their lead through Pedro. Xavi was again the creator, his pass evading Alvaro Arbeloa and sending Pedro through, and the winger coolly slotted past Casillas from the edge of the box.
Madrid boss Manuel Pellegrini responded to that by sending on Guti for Marcelo, and the veteran playmaker almost made an immediate impact as his pass sent Rafael van der Vaart clear. Valdes came to his side's rescue though as he parried the Dutchman's shot.
Valdes would find himself increasingly busy in the next 15 minutes as Madrid tried to find a foothold back into game. Cristiano Ronaldo was twice denied by Valdes, while Guti also tested the Barca goalkeeper. The more Madrid pushed forward, though, the more chance Barca had of notching a third on the break, and that almost came in the 71st minute when Messi was left with only Casillas to beat, but the Spain No 1 came out on top with a superb block. It was an identical story in the 77th minute when Xavi picked out Messi's run into the area, with Casillas again deflecting the Argentine's shot for a corner.
Barca could have been made to rue those misses if Raul's goal had stood late on. However, that effort was chalked off for a handball against Karim Benzema, and with it went Madrid's hopes of getting anything out of the match and possibly their title dreams as well.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Albiol, Garay, Arbeloa; Van der Vaart, Xabi Alonso, Gago, Marcelo; Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain.
Barcelona: Victor Valdes; Puyol, Milito, Pique, Maxwell; Busquets, Keita, Xavi; Alves, Pedro, Messi.
Referee: Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez