Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for kicking an opponent in Real Madrid\’s 2-1 win at Cordoba, and Lionel Messi reached the 30-goal mark for a seventh straight season in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Madrid completed its comeback when Gareth Bale converted an 89th-minute penalty, after Ronaldo was given a straight red card, to ensure his team kept the league lead.
Messi then did all he could to keep Barcelona one point behind its fierce rival by scoring his 30th and 31st goals in all competitions this season and setting up Neymar for two more in the 6-0 rout at 10-man Elche.
Defending champion Atletico Madrid stayed in the hunt in third place, four points behind Madrid, after Antoine Griezmann netted a brace in a 3-1 victory over visitor Rayo Vallecano.
Madrid has a game in hand, but it may not have its leading scorer for it after his violent outburst.
"There\’s still a long way to go this season, a lot of games before we talk about the title," Bale said. "What\’s clear to us is that there can be games like this one when the going gets tough. Cristiano is really disappointed with his red card, but these are things that happen in football."
Ronaldo was held in check until the 82nd when his frustration boiled over as he lashed out in anger at defender Edimar. He also swiped the face of Cordoba\’s Jose Crespo following the kicking incident.
Ronaldo strolled off the pitch, taking time to gesture to the patch on his shirt for Madrid winning the Club World Cup in December. The gesture earned the Ballon d\’Or winner jeers from the Nuevo Arcangel crowd.
Ronaldo later apologized for his "rash act."
Elsewhere, sixth-place Villarreal equaled a club record of 17 consecutive games without a loss by beating Levante 1-0 thanks to Luciano Vietto\’s second-half goal.
Xavi Prieto also struck after halftime to give Real Sociedad a 1-0 win over Eibar, with both Basque teams remaining in the middle of the table.
With Madrid facing a costly draw at a modest rival, Bale earned a free kick and sent his strike into the defensive wall, where Fede Cartabia used his arm to block it. Bale then converted the resulting spot kick to take the valuable three points.
Bale had already set up Karim Benzema to level in the 27th after Cordoba\’s Nabil Ghilas opened the scoring with a penalty two minutes in.
But it was all Cordoba, as the hosts threatened a second victory over Madrid, and first since 1967, until the surprising chain of events in the final 10 minutes.
Ronaldo finished without a clear scoring chance in the match. He will be suspended for the next round\’s home match against Sociedad. He could also be suspended for the following matches against title challengers Sevilla and Atletico Madrid.
He was suspended for three games in February last year for hitting Athletic Bilbao\’s Carlos Gurpegi. The league disciplinary committee added two more games to Ronaldo\’s initial one-game ban for his mocking gesture as he left the field.
Messi notched his seventh and eighth goals in his last five games. He has 21 goals in the league, second only to Ronaldo\’s 28. Neymar is third with 14.
Since a 1-0 loss at Sociedad that preceded the firing of its sports director and the club calling for early elections, Barcelona has reeled off six straight wins.
"Our attitude has changed," Neymar said. "With this attitude and this way of playing it\’s tough to lose."
Gerard Pique got Barcelona going with a goal in the 35th before Messi scored from the spot following Sergio Pelegrin\’s foul of Neymar.
Elche\’s Faycal Fajr was sent off with his second booking in the 57th, and Messi picked apart the undermanned hosts with two passes for Neymar to finish off in the 69th and 72nd.
Messi struck again two minutes from time before Neymar passed for Pedro Rodriguez to polish off Barcelona\’s fourth win over Elche this season for a combined score of 18-0.
Rayo defensive errors were pounced on by Griezmann to score in the 12th and 22nd. Roberto Trashorras pulled one back before halftime before Manucho\’s own goal in the 56th.