Lionel Messi celebrated the birth of his second son by coming off the bench to score the winner as Barcelona came from behind to claim a vital 2-1 win away at Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Real Madrid remain two points behind Barca at the top of the table after Cristiano Ronaldo became the club’s all-time leading scorer in La Liga with five goals in a 6-0 rout of Espanyol.
Messi started on the sidelines having missed training on Friday to attend the birth, a day after returning from international duty.
However, he was still to make the decisive contribution as he nonchalantly flicked home the winner 11 minutes from time after Neymar had cancelled out Fernando Torres’s opener.
Even without Messi, Barca were the dominant side early on at the Calderon with Ivan Rakitic forcing Jan Oblak into the first serious save of the game with a fierce drive from a narrow angle.
Torres was again chosen ahead of Jackson Martinez in attack for Atletico and he wasted the hosts’ best chance of the first-half when he blasted over under pressure from Javier Mascherano.
Luis Suarez should have given Barca the lead midway through the half when he turned Rafinha’s flick onto the crossbar from point-blank range.
Jose Maria Gimenez then made a terrific block to deny Neymar the opener after a rapid counter-attack from Barca, but the Uruguayan was also fortunate the referee didn’t point to the spot as the ball ricocheted off his hand to safety.
Atletico struck first six minutes after the break when Torres latched onto Tiago’s through ball and his shot found the net via the far post.
However, the lead lasted barely three minutes as in the absence of Messi, Neymar was given the chance to strike a free-kick from the edge of the area and arrowed the ball into Oblak’s top right-hand corner.
Messi was introduced for the final half hour by Barca boss Luis Enrique and he and Neymar combined to set up a great chance for Suarez only for the former Liverpool man to scuff wide.
Felipe Luis made a desperate clearance off the line from Neymar as the pressure built from the European champions.
And it finally told when a neat exchange between Messi and Suarez freed the Argentine to lift the ball over Oblak into the far corner.
Earlier, Ronaldo silenced any critics about his lack of early season form by scoring five times in a La Liga match for the second time in five months.
The Portuguese slotted home the opener from Luka Modric’s wonderful pass before doubling his tally from the penalty spot after Gareth Bale had been felled inside the area.
Bale crossed for Ronaldo to complete his 32nd hat-trick for Madrid and the World Player of the Year then turned provider himself for Karim Benzema to tap home a fourth before halftime.
Ronaldo finished off another unselfish piece of play by Bale before smashing home his fifth 10 minutes from time.
The former Manchester United man’s five-goal haul takes him ahead of Madrid legends Raul and Alfredo di Stefano to become the club’s all-time leading scorer in La Liga with 330 goals.
“Someone who scores so many goals has their place in history forever like Raul or Di Stefano,” said Madrid boss Rafael Benitez.
“I think we are speaking of three historic players and I hope Cristiano continues adding to his tally for his good and the good of the team.”