Barca beat Atletico 4-1 in top-of-table clash
Leaders Barcelona struck a potentially decisive blow in the La Liga title race when Lionel Messi scored twice in a 4-1 win at home to second-placed Atletico Madrid to move nine points clear at the top on Sunday.
The victory moved Barca 13 points ahead of ailing champions Real Madrid, who were surprisingly held to a 2-2 draw at home by lowly Espanyol.
Tito Vilanova's unbeaten leaders fought back after Radamel Falcao gave Atletico a deserved lead. A magnificent strike from Adriano levelled the scores, and Sergio Busquets and a second-half brace from Messi completed the scoring.
Barca have 46 points from 16 games, Atletico have 37 and Real 33.
"You can't say the league is over," Real midfielder Xabi Alonso told Spanish television after their earlier game.
"We will continue fighting, it will be tough, but we will carry on."
Atletico made an impressive start, causing problems on the break, and after twice going close, Colombia striker Falcao put the visitors ahead in the 32nd minute with his 17th of the campaign.
Diego Costa stole the ball off Messi and fed Falcao who sped away and cleverly lobbed the advancing Victor Valdes.
Five minutes later, Barca were back in the game thanks to a thunderous shot from Adriano, who cut in from the right flank and fired in off the underside of the crossbar.
Atletico were struggling to break out of the area before halftime, and when they failed to clear a corner, Busquets calmly stroked home the second.
After the break, Messi slotted a third into the corner and then pounced on an error at the end for his 25th in La Liga and 90th for club and country in 2012.
Espanyol substitute Juan Albin stunned Real with an 88th-minute equaliser as the Barcelona-based side grabbed an unlikely draw at the Bernabeu.