Neymar scored both goals for Barcelona in a hard-earned Nou Camp win against Villarreal that lifted Gerardo Martino's team three points clear at the Primera Division summit.
It was a performance illuminated by the excellence of Neymar, whose name home supporters chanted towards the end of the fixture, as the Brazilian stepped up to the task of leading the attack in Lionel Messi's continued absence through injury.
Neymar converted a 30th-minute penalty for Barcelona's opening goal after Mario Gaspar handled the ball, only for the visitors to equalise through Mateo Musacchio's fierce header three minutes after the break.
Barcelona found Villarreal's defence obdurate but broke it down in the 68th minute when Neymar fired home a simple goal after good work from Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.
Neymar went in hunt of a hat-trick but settled for the match-winning double that gave Barcelona a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid, who have a Sunday night assignment against Valencia, and also a five-point cushion over Real Madrid.
Real fought back from two goals and a man down to salvage their draw with Osasuna in Pamplona.
Oriol Riera struck twice for the hosts in the first half and an Osasuna win looked all the more certain when Sergio Ramos was sent off for two bookable offences.
However, Isco gave Madrid hope by scoring just moments before half-time and a headed goal by Pepe completed the comeback on 80 minutes, by which time Osasuna had also been reduced to 10 men, with Francisco Silva dismissed for picking up two yellow cards.
Ten-man Rayo Vallecano were beaten 2-0 by Granada in what was their sixth home defeat of the season.
Fran Rico put the visitors ahead with a free-kick after 35 minutes and Paco Jemez's side were dealt another blow before half-time as full-back Nacho was sent off for receiving two bookings, the latter for diving to win a penalty.
Rayo fought hard for an equaliser for the remaining 45 minutes despite their numerical disadvantage, but lost all hope when Riki added a second for Granada in the 88th minute.
In the final game of the night, Malaga claimed an important 1-0 victory over Getafe to move five points clear of the relegation zone.
Roque Santa Cruz netted the decisive goal in the 75th minute, moments after coming on as a substitute, as he headed powerfully into the top corner from Duda's free-kick.