Real Madrid defender Nacho was the unlikely hero as they snatched a 1-0 win at Real Valladolid on Sunday to capitalise on Barcelona's defeat at Valencia this weekend and move three points clear of their rivals at the top of La Liga.
The Spaniard was handed his fourth league start of the season only because usual right back Dani Carvajal was suspended but he proved the difference in a tight encounter by heading home a Toni Kroos cross in the 78th minute.
Real, who have not won the title since 2017, lead the standings on 46 points after 21 games. Barca, who lost 2-0 at Valencia on Saturday in their first defeat under new coach Quique Setien, are second on 43 while Sevilla are third with 38.
Nacho raced straight over to the visiting dugout to embrace coach Zinedine Zidane after scoring his first league goal in over two years as Real finally broke the deadlock after struggling to break down the hosts' deep-lying defence.
Zidane revealed after the game that his instructions to Nacho had played a part in the goal.
"Just before he scored I told him to attack the near post. He's a defender who doesn't score many goals so I'm delighted for him," said the French coach.
"It was a very difficult match against a team who had only lost one game at home and who play very well. It was vital that we won but being top of the table doesn't change anything for us, we just have to keep doing what we're doing well."
Real midfielder Casemiro thought he had given Zidane's side an early lead when he headed home a free kick from Kroos but the goal was ruled out for offside after a VAR review.
Valladolid's Sergi Guardiola meanwhile netted late in the game but that was also ruled offside and Real clung on to earn a vital victory which took them back to the top of the standings for the first time since the start of October.
"Nacho sums up the unity of this team and that any player can come in and make a difference regardless of how many minutes they have played this season. The whole squad is so happy for him," added Real captain Sergio Ramos.
"It's never easy to play away from home and we knew that Valladolid would play their usual system and defend very well and close us down and we had to work very hard to open them up."
Ronaldo scores again but Juventus lose
Serie A leaders Juventus suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Napoli on Sunday, with coach Maurizio Sarri returning to his former club for the first time, though Cristiano Ronaldo still managed to score for an eighth league game in a row for the visitors.
Juve, who are chasing a ninth successive title and could have gone six points clear with a win, instead remained on 51 and saw their lead cut to three points by Inter Milan, who drew 1-1 at home to Cagliari earlier on Sunday.
Midfielder Piotr Zielinski, who Sarri brought to Napoli during his three-year stint at the club, broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute and captain Lorenzo Insigne hooked in the home side’s second goal with four minutes left.
Out-of-sorts Juve took more than an hour to manage a shot on target although Ronaldo pulled one back in the 90th minute as he continued his scoring run.
“We were passive for the whole game,” said Sarri. “It was a bland performance, we were caught between pressing and waiting. They only had to do the bare minimum to beat us.”
The Juve coach, who led Napoli to second place with a club record points tally in his final season in charge in 2017-18, was jeered by the crowd and insulting banners were placed in various parts of the city before the match.
Napoli, who are 10th on 27 points and having one of their worst seasons for years, had lost their first three home league games since Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti as coach in January.
“We have to keep going like this now, not let up and focus on Napoli 24 hours a day,” he said. “I haven’t been here long, but this team have hurt themselves with certain attitudes and behaviour.
“We have been jeered and insulted, often quite rightly, so it’s up to us now to turn things around.”
Sarri fielded an adventurous lineup with Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala alongside Ronaldo but they were stifled by Napoli’s tireless running.
Ronaldo had a goal disallowed after halftime for offside against Higuain in the build-up but Juve finally managed a shot on goal in the 62nd minute when Higuain’s effort was comfortably saved by Alex Meret.
A minute later, Napoli went ahead. Juve keeper Wojciech Szczesny could only parry a fierce, dipping shot from Insigne and the ball fell to Zielinski who rifled it into the top corner.
Juve nearly levelled in a tense finale but Higuain’s overhead kick was saved by Meret.