In a game that was billed as the most important La Liga match of the season to date, Pep Guardiola's side came up trumps against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid in the last El Clasico of 2011 to claim top spot in a thrilling affair at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Having slipped three points behind their fierce rivals despite having played an extra match, Los Blaugranes were aware that only a win would suffice as they looked to revive their title bid against Mourinho's side, who had won 15 games on the spin prior to kick-off.
Barcelona were able to call upon their first-choice centre-back partnership of Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué whilst Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez were the preferred options in attack, supporting top goal-scorer Lionel Messi.
However, the Spanish champions appeared to be suffering from the pre-match jitters and the volatile home crowd, conceding after just 22 seconds, the fastest goal scored in an El Clasico contest. Barcelona were found guilty of trying to play out of defence when Victor Valdes's clearance went straight to the feet of Angel Di Maria who drilled the ball into the penalty area. The ball struck Sergio Busquets and rebounded to Mesut Ozil whose volley once again hit the Spanish international and the ball fell kindly into the path of Karim Benzema who smashed it into the back of the net from close range sending the home support into raptures.
It was just the start that Barcelona fans had feared, an early advantage to their hosts who now had a buoyant crowd spurring them on. Los Blancos continued to dominate in the early stages and really should have been two goals ahead when Cristiano Ronaldo spurned a glorious opportunity. Benzema did well to reach Marcelo's lofted pass and squared the ball to the Portuguese forward on the edge of the box but last season's top league goalscorer shot wide with Di Maria screaming for it on the far side. Considering he had scored 21 goals in his previous 20 matches, one would have expected Ronaldo to have buried the opportunity and given Real Madrid a two-goal cushion.
Against Barcelona, you have to be at your clinical best and Mourinho's side were made to rue their early missed chances on the half-hour mark when summer signing Alexis Sanchez converted his fifth league goal of the campaign following a moment of brilliance from Messi. The Argentine forward, who had been relatively quiet in the opening stages, picked up the ball just inside the Madrid half before embarking on one of his trademark slalom runs, leaving white shirts in his wake, before feeding a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of the onrushing Chilean, who fired across Iker Casillas into the far corner, to stun the home crowd.
An El Clasico is never bereft of a feisty contest and this match was no different with a series of mis-timed tackles, confrontations and cautions playing a prominent part in a first half which lacked clear-cut opportunites, although that was in part due to excellent defending and crucial interceptions from both sides. The Real Madrid coaching staff were particularly incensed after 44 minutes when Messi fouled Xabi Alonso and avoided a second yellow card.
The next goal was absolutely crucial and after Valdes did well not to spill Ronaldo's testing free-kick, it was Barcelona who secured the upper-hand on 53 minutes albeit through a huge slice of fortune. Pepe did well to cut out Sanchez's infield pass but the ball sat up for Xavi who struck an audacious volley from 25 yards which took a wicked deflection off the heel of Marcelo with Casillas sprawling across his goal as the ball hit the inside of the post and nestled into the back of the net, sending the Barcelona players into delerium.
Messi's curling freekick nearly crept into the far corner before Ronaldo once again wasted a presentable opportunity when he put a free header past the post from Xabi Alonso's brilliant cross.
However, Barcelona secured all three points on 66 minutes after a devastating counter-attack. Messi found Alves on the right side of the box and the Brazilian wing-back produced a cross of the highest quality which was duly met by the head of Fabregas, who had burst forward from midfield to complete a wonderful team move. The determination of the young midfielder epitomised Barcelona's resolute display and with ten goals in thirteen starts, Fabregas is easily justifying his price tag.
Tempers began to boil over in the closing stages as Barcelona frustrated their bitter rivals with their retention of possession but the referee David Fernandez Borbalan did well to keep a lid on the game. Kaka was denied by Valdes late on as Barcelona clung on for a valuable three points to send them above Real Madrid on goal difference.
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell could not contain his delight in his post-match conference claiming: "I know what I'm going to say is politically incorrect, and I apologise in advance, but we have given them a bath. I want to say it because it was fabulous, the whole world has seen that at playing football this is the best team in the world."
Barcelona now take a break from their domestic duties to compete in the FIFA World Club Championships where they will face Asian champions Al-Sadd in the semi-finals on Thursday.