Champions Barcelona leapfrogged rivals Real Madrid to go second in the Spanish first division thanks to a 3-1 win at 10-man Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
Barca notched their third consecutive league victory with second half goals from Seydou Keita, Xavi and Sergi Busquets after Bilbao had been reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Fernando Amorebieta on 33 minutes.
Barcelona also had David Villa sent off in the closing stages as Bilbao made it 2-1 but Busquets scored with the last kick of the game to seal the win.
Goal-shy Real had dropped two vital points in a 0-0 draw at promoted Levante so Barcelona moved a point above their rivals but stayed behind new leaders Valencia by a point.
Valencia warmed up for Wednesday’s Champions League duel with Manchester United by winning 2-0 at Sporting Gijon to make it 13 points from a possible 15 in the league.
Real had been top on goal difference before the weekend but fired blanks against Levante lacking the killer instinct in front of goal.
“It is not normal for a team to need so many goalscoring chances,” said Real coach Jose Mourinho.
“It is obviously something that worries me because you have to score goals to win games and we have dropped some points.
“The quality of the players is not the problem because they are used to scoring a lot of goals.”
Real top-scored in the league last season with 102 goals but under Mourinho they have scored just six in the first five league games.
For Real the Champions League is the next priority as they travel to French side Auxerre on Tuesday.
Barcelona capitalised on Real’s slip-up but should have put 10-man Bilbao to the sword at San Mames hitting the post twice and missing other opportunities in their 3-1 triumph.
The visitors were sharp early on ignoring the torrential rain to play their passing game and had two golden chances in the opening quarter hour.
Keita latched onto a Xavi pass on 10 minutes but his shot lacked the necessary power and goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz parried the effort.
Three minutes later Andres Iniesta produced a perfectly-weighted pass for Villa but he crashed his shot against the post.
Barca were on top and were given an extra edge on 33 minutes when Amorebieta was harshly sent off for a late lunge on Iniesta.
Amorebieta was stretching as he caught Iniesta late and his punishment of a straight red card was severe.
With one man more Barcelona failed to make inroads and Mikel San Jose hit the post for 10-man Bilbao four minutes after the interval.
It stung Barca into action with Keita running onto a first time pass from Villa to slot home on 54 minutes.
A deflected shot from Xavi on 73 minutes gave Barcelona some breathing space although they needed a late goal from Busquets to calm their nerves after Bilbao had pulled a late goal back.
Barcelona didn’t have Lionel Messi due to an ankle injury but hope to have the Argentine back for the trip to Russia to face Rubin Kazan in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Valencia are also in Champions League action hosting Manchester United on Wednesday and are brimming with confidence after a 2-0 win at Gijon pushed them to the league summit with four wins and draw so far.
Turkish midfielder Mehmet Topal and Spanish international forward Roberto Soldado both scored their first league goals in the club’s colours to clinch the win.
“The players are grasping that the most important thing is the team and not the individuals and that is the key to the good start,” said Valencia coach Unai Emery.
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