Santi Cazorla's late strike at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday night meant that Barcelona closed the gap on Real Madrid to eight points after they secured a vital 2-0 victory away at Sevilla.
It signalled their fifth straight league win since the shock defeat against Osasuna and in truth, there should have been more goals in an open contest which saw plenty of squandered chances for both sides.
Before the match, both sets of fans and players paid tribute to Barcelona defender Eric Abidal, who is to undergo a liver transplant. Guardiola's side, spurred on by the loss of their influential left-back, emerged fastest from the blocks and nearly opened the scoring after seven minutes when Adriano's shot was deflected and looped onto the top of the net with Palop scrambling.
The veteran shotstopper was called into action again only several minutes later when Lionel Messi played in Pedro but Palop produced a fine save to prevent his side from going behind. However, Barcelona's pressure began to tell and he could do nothing to prevent Xavi's textbook freekick on the 18th minute despite getting a palm to the ball. It was the midfielder's ninth league goal of the season, his thirteenth in all competitions, signalling his best goalscoring season for the club.
Andrés Iniesta could have doubled the lead only two minutes after the restart but he sent his curling effort wide of Palop's post. Sevilla were being completely outplayed and only mustered their first examination of Victor Valdes's goal in the 24th minute when Manu's shot stung the keeper's gloves from an acute angle.
Yet Barcelona continued to pour forward and Lionel Messi extended their advantage in the 26th minute, collecting a pass from Iniesta in his stride before nutmegging Spahic and producing a perfectly-weighted impudent chip over Palop and into the back of the net. It was La Pulga's 231st goal for the club, bringing him within four goals of all-time leading goalscorer Cesar. The travelling Barcelona support erupted in a chorus of the Argentine's name, throwing their arms forward as a sign of worship for their talisman.
Sevilla's best chance of the match fell to Manu in the 33rd minute when Gerard Piqué failed to clear Jesus Navas's speculative cross and the Spanish striker snuck in behind him to plant a header over Valdes but against the frame of the goal. The Spanish international defender has looked vulnerable at times this season and his proneness to errors could cause Pep Guardiola to re-assess his defensive options at the end of the season. The former Manchester United star was again at fault when Frederic Kanoute breezed past him and into the penalty box with only Valdes to beat, but Adriano produced a magnificent tackle to spare his blushes.
Cesc Fabregas should have put the contest out of reach of Sevilla at the end of the first half after good work from Pedro and Messi but his first time shot was comfortably foiled by Palop eight yards out.
Sevilla should have reduced arrears in the 65th minute when Jesus Navas's teasing cross somehow evaded Kanoute and Manu at the back post before Iniesta chipped wide with the goal gaping after sublime build up play by Messi. The Argentine striker had a goal chalked off with seconds remaining as Barcelona stood firm to secure a deserved 2-0 win over their Andalusian rivals. La Blaugrana return to action on Tuesday night when they face Granada at the Camp Nou.