Bottom club Espanyol upset leaders Barcelona with a 2-1 victory at the Nou Camp while chasing Real Madrid ran riot with a 6-1 home win over Real Betis in the Primera Liga on Saturday.
Ten-man Barca slipped to only their second defeat of the campaign and saw their lead, which stood at 12 points just over a week ago, reduced to seven.
Espanyol’s Ivan de la Pena, who once played for Barca, made the most of Seydou Keita’s first-half dismissal, scoring twice after the break in the Catalan derby.
Yaya Toure pulled one back just past the hour but it was not enough to prevent champions Real edging even closer with their ninth successive victory.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Raul helped themselves to two goals each while Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Ramos weighed in with one apiece as Real went in 6-1 up at halftime at the Bernabeu.
“No one said this would be easy,” Guardiola said. “But we are still in a good position and tomorrow we will pick ourselves up and we’ll get everyone back on track.”
Barca are on 60 points and Real have 53 while third-placed Sevilla climbed on to 44 after Jesus Navas grabbed a late winner for a 1-0 win at home to Atletico Madrid.
Villarreal are up to fourth with 41 points after a 2-1 home win over Sporting Gijon.
Spanish media spent the week talking about the possibility of Real staging a comeback to win the league after Barca dropped two points against Betis last week, and Pep Guardiola’s team looked nervous from the outset versus Espanyol.
The stop-start nature of the game, and an increasingly heated atmosphere, led to Keita getting a red card for a late challenge after 38 minutes.
De la Pena was left unmarked to head home at the back post after 50 minutes and four minutes later Victor Valdes was put under pressure with the ball at his feet and passed straight to De la Pena, who lobbed into the open net.
Toure’s fine volley after a freekick in the 62nd was the best Barca could muster in reply. It was Espanyol’s first win in 15 attempts in the league.
Higuain rounded goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira for the opener after seven minutes, and Huntelaar bagged the second soon after when Pereira weakly pushed a cross straight to him.
The Dutchman volleyed in the third when Pereira could only palm his header on to the woodwork.
Ricardo Oliveira pulled one back for the shell-shocked visitors on the half-hour and then hit the post after Iker Casillas miscued a pass to him a couple of minutes later.
Man United go 8 points clear at the top
London: Manchester United moved eight points clear at the top of the English Premier League after an edgy 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner Saturday with a fine free kick in the second half but United rode their luck before clinching victory and increasing their lead over second-placed Liverpool. Chelsea edged ahead of Aston Villa into third place after their 1-0 win at Villa Park, while Arsenal’s hopes of securing a top-four spot suffered another blow when they were held 0-0 at home by Sunderland. At Old Trafford, United took an early lead through Wayne Rooney (23) but Blackburn equalized nine minutes later when Roque Santa Cruz took advantage of uncertainty in the United defence.