Lionel Messi missed an injury time penalty as Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by nine-man Sevilla Saturday, an outcome which meant they surrendered top spot in La Liga to bitter rivals Real Madrid who trounced Malaga 4-0.
A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in the space of 15 first-half minutes helped Real to victory and Jose Mourinho's men now have a one-point lead over the defending Spanish and European champions.
Barcelona have now kept a record six clean sheets in all competitions, but despite dominating the match at Camp Nou, they were thwarted by a dogged Sevilla defence and goalkeeper Javi Varas who pulled off a series of outstanding saves.
Varas denied Andres Iniesta and kept out a David Villa shot from point-blank range shortly before half-time. After the break he continued to stand firm as the shots rained in, notably a strike from Iniesta from the edge of the area.
The game boiled over in the final minutes as Iniesta was upended in the area and a penalty was awarded. Substitute Frederic Kanoute was red-carded for a foul on Cesc Fabregas before the spot-kick was taken by Messi and sensationally saved by Varas. There was still time for Fernando Navara to also be given his marching orders for a second yellow card.
Ronaldo shines for Real
Ronaldo hit a hat-trick in just 15 minutes as Real Madrid swept aside Malaga in a first-half blitz to put them top with 19 points. It was a battle between the newly-rich Malaga, who invested heavily in the summer as they aim for a place in Europe, and the old order, but it turned into a mismatch as Real cruised to victory.
Gonzalo Higuain, who has hit two hat-tricks in his last two games for Real, as well as another in between for Argentina, sent the visitors on their way to victory after ten minutes before Ronaldo stole the show with three quickfire goals.
He side-footed home an Angel di Maria cross and then fired in from the edge of the area before completing his hat-trick with an acrobatic flick from close range.
Former Real striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was a surprise exclusion from the Malaga starting side, but he would have found it difficult to make a difference as Real ran riot and the Malaga strikers saw little of the ball.
Joaquin Sanchez and Seba Fernandez both hit the woodwork for the home side, but they were unable to manage even a consolation.
"I liked everything about the way we played -- the first touch, the second touch and the way we pressed when we lost the ball," said Real coach Jose Mourinho. "It was a game that I liked in all aspects, we scored goals from different styles of play and then in the second half it was impossible to maintain that level. After the break Malaga fought for their pride and could have scored."
Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini admitted that his team needs to improve defensively. "We cannot afford to be worrying so much about the defence and against Real we gave their forwards too many opportunities," he said.
"I am very unhappy with the game as we are making basic errors but we will get this right, I have no doubts."
Sporting Gijon triumph
Bottom side Sporting Gijon finally gave themselves reason to cheer with a 2-0 win over Granada, although they remain a point adrift. Sporting had picked up just one point from seven games going into their clash with Granada, who are another early favourite for the drop, but they set off at a lightning pace.
David Barral pounced in the box to put Sporting ahead with five minutes gone and while Alexandre Geijo saw a shot come back off the post for Granada, the home side wrapped up the win before half-time through Andre Castro.
A Sergio Garcia strike mid-way through the second half gave Espanyol a 1-0 win away to Racing Santander that takes them up to eighth, while Racing are still looking for their first win.