Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho surrendered La Liga title on Sunday as his misfiring team slipped a massive 13 points behind bitter rivals Barcelona.
Real were held to a disappointing 2-2 home draw by struggling Espanyol before Barcelona compounded his misery by romping to a 4-1 win over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who are now nine points off the pace.
"The league is now impossible," admitted Mourinho. "It is the first time that I have been in a situation like this where my team are a long way off their objectives. But I don't want to make a drama out of it, I will treat it as another stage of my life."
Barcelona rebound in style
At Camp Nou, Radamel Falcao put Atletico ahead after 31 minutes but Barcelona quickly responded with goals from Adriano and Sergio Busquets before half-time.
After the break, Lionel Messi scored his 24th and 25th league goals of the season and now has 90 in the calendar year as Tito Vilanova's side extended their record start to 15 wins from 16 games.
"Nobody thought we would be in this position but Atletico and Real Madrid are going to keep going. It is a good advantage but we are still only halfway through the season," said Busquets.
Falcao headed a Jorge Koke cross against the post and it was an early indication of the danger that Atletico's in-form forward poses.
Barcelona took their time to get into their stride and even then they were finding it difficult to move forward as Atletico were giving them little space.
Arda Turan quickly chipped a free-kick over the home side's defence for Falcao to run on to but the Colombian's shot drifted past the far post.
He finally made the breakthrough as he latched onto a Diego Costa pass, outpaced Busquets, and finished with a delightful dink over keeper Victor Valdes.
While Barcelona's forwards were being kept quiet it was full-back Adriano who had the answer as he then curled in a 25-yard strike from the right wing.
Busquets put them ahead just before the break as he kept his composure inside the area and picked his spot past the keeper Thibaut Courtois.
Barcelona maintained the momentum after the break and Messi hit the third after 57 minutes with a clinical shot into the corner and with Atletico having run out of steam the Argentine got his second three minutes from the end.
Real stumble against strugglers
At the Bernabeu earlier on Sunday, Cristiano Ronaldo equalised for Madrid on the stroke of half-time after Sergio Garcia had put joint-bottom Espanyol ahead on the half hour mark.
Two minutes after the restart, Fabio Coentrao put Real in front but it was not enough as Juan Albin slotted home from close range two minutes from the end.
Mourinho had already criticised his players for a lacklustre performance in a midweek Spanish Cup game where they lost to Celta Vigo and now the pressure is firmly on the Portuguese.
"It is practically impossible. There are too many points to make up at this stage. Last season, we had a 10-point lead in February and La Liga was ours," added Mourinho.
The Portuguese admitted that his players are under-performing. "Cristiano played well but his team-mates didn't. The attitude has been good and what we need is a bit of calm and luck. For the effort of the players we deserved to win but we wasted clear cut chances."
New Espanyol coach Javier Aguirre has worked hard on making the defence more solid but he was without captain and first choice keeper Cristian Alvarez and so put his faith in the inexperienced Francisco Casilla.
Casilla first parried a Ronaldo shot and then Pepe wasted an excellent opening when he headed a Mesut Ozil cross straight at him but there were warning signs at the other end with Simao firing wide on the counter-attack.
Luka Modric hit the post for Madrid with a long distance drive midway through the first half but it was Garcia who put the visitors ahead with a clinical finish from a Verdu pass that split the Madrid defence.
Ronaldo was denied again by Casilla before he did finally put the ball in the back of the net as he knocked in a cross from Sami Khedira.
After the break Madrid had more of a cutting edge and Coentrao, bursting forward from full-back, latched onto a Ronaldo pass and slotted the ball past Casilla.
The Espanyol shot-stopper was in inspired form though as he prevented Madrid from killing off the game by denying Jose Callejon and substitute Di Maria before also tipping a powerful strike from the latter onto the crossbar.
Madrid were made to rue their missed chances as Albin knocked the ball in after a goalmouth melee as the home side desperately sought to clear the ball.